Kudos to the reader who can remember the last time Canada asked Israel to end its occupation of Palestinian territories; or to stop expanding settlements; or to dismantle the wall; or to abide by UN Security Council resolutions.
Give up? Don't blame yourself. These events have either never happened, or have not happened in a long time. Recent governments have drifted away from Canada's long-standing Mideast policy that recognized Palestinian rights under international law. Last week, Canada became the first country after Israel to break ties with the new Hamas-led government in the Palestinian Authority. Hamas does not "respect existing agreements to follow the road map, to recognize Israel as a state and to renounce all violence," Foreign Affairs Minister Peter MacKay said in justifying Canada's decision, which also cut off millions of dollars in aid. Shameful hypocrisy, Mr. Minister.
The "road map," introduced in 2002 by the international "Quartet" (the U.S., UN, EU and Russia) as a phased-in approach to Mideast peace, is now defunct. It had foreseen the creation of "an independent Palestinian state with provisional borders in 2003." Instead, Palestine's borders today are determined by a wall, or what Israel calls a "security barrier." The wall was ruled illegal by the International Court of Justice as it results in de facto borders that incorporate substantial portions of Palestinian territory inside Israel. Why should Hamas sign up to a peace initiative that is out of touch with realities on the ground?
Additionally, even as Canada demands that Hamas recognize the state of Israel, it does not equally demand that Israel's prime minister-elect Ehud Olmert recognize a viable, contiguous Palestinian state. Mr. Olmert campaigned on a promise to "establish Israel's permanent borders unilaterally." This will allow it to "annex something between 15 per cent and 50 per cent of the West Bank," says former Israeli member of the Knesset Uri Avnery. By planning to evacuate only isolated settlements, Mr. Olmert's plan will leave the West Bank cut up into five cantons.
Demanding Hamas renounce violence is fair. But Hamas has abided by a truce for a year now, and has offered to extend it indefinitely. At the same time, Canada willfully ignores Israel's continuing assassinations, land confiscations and home demolitions. A more reasonable approach would have us maintaining ties with Hamas as long as it abides by the truce.
More hypocrisy was in International Co-operation Minister Josée Verner's pledge to "continue to support and respond to the humanitarian needs of the Palestinian people," while rejecting their democratically chosen government.
The aid being cut off to the Palestinian Authority would have helped replace housing under the leadership of the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation; refurbish and manage an industrial park in the city of Ramallah (whose mayor is a Christian woman), and support the Canadian-Palestinian Judicial Education Project for the promotion of human rights (with involvement by former Supreme Court justice, Claire L'Heureux-Dubé.)
The Canadian government seems more intent on punishing Hamas for its past, or for what it might do, than judging it by its actions now that it is in government.
I am no fan of Hamas. That it calls for Israel's destruction is unacceptable. That it justifies the use of suicide bombers in resisting the occupation does not make it any less a crime. Its call for the establishment of an Islamic state in Palestine will be rejected by the secular majority in Palestinian society.
But this is not really about Hamas. It is about demonizing Palestinian leadership so it can be claimed that Israel has no partner for peace. It is about avoiding discussing an end to the occupation and focusing instead on its symptoms. It is about allowing Israel to avoid peace negotiations, to proceed with unilateral moves and to impose its own conditions on Palestinians.
Mainstream Canada has sadly accepted the anti-Hamas argument at face value. This newspaper condemned Hamas in seven separate editorials since its January 23 election win.
Last month, Canada was the only country to join the U.S. in voting against a resolution on Palestinian rights at the UN Economic and Social Council. Aligning ourselves with the Bush administration is not what Canadians want.
Our government needs to recognize that the election of Hamas is not as much an obstacle to peace as it is a result of the lack of peace. It needs to make demands of Israel just as it has of the Palestinians.
Raja George Khouri is former president of the Canadian Arab Federation and author of Arabs in Canada: Post 9/11.