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Wednesday, December 17, 2014

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John Baird’s courage

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Subtlety, nuance, balance and honesty have never been strong suits of the Palestinian leadership. Their predisposition for exaggerated polemics was much on display last week when their propaganda machine went into punishing overdrive.

Their various spokespeople let loose a torrent of disparagement and condemnation of Canadian Foreign Minister John Baird for his deigning to meet with Israeli Justice Minister Tzipi Livni at her office in eastern Jerusalem last week. 

The PLO lodged an official complaint with our government, calling Baird’s meeting “tantamount to complicity in ongoing Israeli violations of the international laws of war.”

“Your recent meeting with Israeli officials in east Jerusalem may be deemed as aiding, abetting, or otherwise assisting illegal Israeli policies,” chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat charged.

Invoking the usual lexicon of loaded, sinister, anti-Israel buzz words, senior PLO official Nabil Shaath characterized Baird’s visit as “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”(our emphasis).

To his credit, Baird was not cowed.

Canadian foreign ministry spokesperson Rick Roth told Agence France-Press that the meeting at Livni’s office “doesn’t change our longstanding position that all final status issues must be negotiated between the two parties. As guests, we were pleased to meet our hosts where it was most convenient for them.” 

The essential point about the location of the Baird-Livni meeting was the one that the Canadian government made. The final status of the geography of east Jerusalem must be negotiated by the Israelis and the Palestinians. That the Palestinians do not agree with Israel’s characterization of eastern Jerusalem is widely known and simply confirms the importance of the overall need to reach a peace agreement.

The true substantive questions regarding eastern Jerusalem however are: why should an anomalous 19-year period – between 1948, when the Jordanian army expelled the Jews from their homes in eastern Jerusalem, and 1967, when the Jews returned – confer special rights upon the Palestinians to its exclusive legal entitlement? Why should the forcible division of Jerusalem by the Jordanian army in 1948 be enshrined as the permanent international legal status of the city, especially when, even as late as June 4, 1967, the Palestinians made no claim to sovereign control of eastern Jerusalem?

Baird got it right when he explained what the true purpose of the diplomatic exercise should be: “We’re focused on trying to have an impact on the difficult and serious challenges, that being security for Israelis, an end to the conflict, and the legitimate aspirations for a state from those on the Palestinian side.” 

We commend his stand and his courage.

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