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Opinion To Palestinians, Baird’s visit is a slap in the face

Tuesday's meeting between Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird and Israeli Justice Minister Tzipi Livni in occupied East Jerusalem not only marks an unprecedented recognition of the illegal Israeli annexation of Palestinians' occupied capital, it undermines efforts by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry to restart negotiations.

The visit is a slap in the face to the Palestinian people, particularly Palestinians living in East Jerusalem, who suffer from Israeli policies of colonial settlement expansion, ID revocations, home demolitions and evictions. The aim of these policies is to rid our city of its Palestinian, Arab, Christian and Muslim character and eventually turn it into an exclusively Jewish city.

Unfortunately, Mr. Baird's meeting there is the latest in a series of provocations. Under his leadership, Canadian diplomats have been instructed to reverse Canada's long-standing support of United Nations resolutions aimed at promoting Palestinian self-determination. In many votes, Canada now stands almost alone in opposing basic, inalienable Palestinian national and human rights and in supporting Israeli violations of international humanitarian and human-rights law. These policies have placed Canada at odds with the international community and have turned Canada into an obstacle, rather than a partner, for peace.

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Israeli policies in occupied East Jerusalem have caused much pain and hardship to Palestinians living there. Christian and Muslim religious sites are routinely undermined and, in many cases, vandalized by settlers who act with impunity and are encouraged by religious leaders and politicians.

Through its expansion of settlements, Israel has choked the Palestinian economy, denied the possibility of territorial contiguity and almost destroyed the possibility of peace based on the two-state solution. Canada, through its acts and omissions, now appears to support this outcome. This not only undermines our aspirations for freedom, it undermines the efforts of all those working toward achieving a just and lasting peace.

East Jerusalem's annexation by Israel has not been accepted by the international community. Security Council Resolution 478 is clear in considering Israel's annexation actions "null and void" and calling on all members states to support this decision. The International Court of Justice's 2004 opinion on the Israeli annexation wall is clear on ruling that "all states are under an obligation not to recognize the illegal situation resulting from the construction of the wall and not to render aid or assistance in maintaining the situation created by such construction." This is precisely the opposite of what Mr. Baird has done here.

As a former foreign minister myself, I remember a time when Canada's foreign policy was guided by respect for international law and human rights. Ottawa was a strong supporter of peace, and agreed to chair the multilateral committee on Palestinian refugees. Canada supported Palestinian efforts to clear parts of the West Bank from Israeli mines, and was a contributor to the now-destroyed international airport in Gaza. Those days seem very far away, and Canada's relations in our region are worse for it.

We hope Canada will return to its historic path of respect for international law, human rights and international consensus. What Mr. Baird has done is an unprecedented offence that severely damages Canada's standing vis-à-vis Palestine, the Arab world and those who are committed to a just and lasting peace based on two sovereign and democratic states, Israel and Palestine.

Nabeel Shaath, a former Palestinian foreign minister, is the member of Fatah's Central Committee in charge of international relations.

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