Canada strongly objected last week to the motion by the United Nations General Assembly to upgrade “Palestine” to non-member observer state status.
The vote ultimately passed Nov. 29 by a margin of 138 to nine, with 41 abstentions.
Other countries that voted against the bid were the United States, Israel, the Czech Republic, Marshall Islands, Micronesia, Nauru, Palau and Panama.
The Palestinians had been expected to handily win the vote, which is largely symbolic.
In a speech to the assembly immediately prior to the vote, Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird called the UN’s determination to hold the vote an “utterly regrettable decision to abandon policy and principle” and said Canada would explore other options to help with the peace process.
“This resolution will not advance the cause of peace or spur a return to negotiations. Will the Palestinian people be better off as a result? No. On the contrary, this unilateral step will harden positions and raise unrealistic expectations while doing nothing to improve the lives of the Palestinian people,” he said.
“Canada is committed to a comprehensive, just and lasting peace in the Middle East whereby two states live side-by-side in peace and security. Any two-state solution must be negotiated and mutually agreed upon by both sides. Any unilateral action, from either side, outside of the bilateral framework outlined above, is ultimately unhelpful.”
A day after the vote, Canada recalled its diplomats from missions in the West Bank and Israel in order to “temporarily assess the implications of [the] UN General Assembly vote and inform Canada’s response to it,” Baird said in a statement.
Canada is also reconsidering its five-year, $300-million aid commitment to the Palestinian Authority (PA).
In a media scrum on Parliament Hill on Nov. 28, NDP Opposition leader Thomas Mulcair called the Palestinian request to be upgraded to non-member state status a “reasonable demand” and criticized the Conservative government for using intimidation tactics against the Palestinian Authority.
He said the NDP position on Middle East peace calls for a two-state solution, with each state existing inside secure borders based on direct negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians.
Mulcair said under the Conservatives, Canada uses a Middle East peace policy consisting of “negativism, reproach, attack [and] threats. That’s not constructive. That’s not a way to build for peace. Under [Prime Minister] Stephen Harper’s Conservatives, we no longer play a constructive role” for peace.
Meanwhile, interim Liberal Leader Bob Rae urged Canada to continue to dialogue with the Palestinians to further peace.
“We strongly urge the international community and our own Canadian government against punitive measures directed at the Palestinian Authority that will only destabilize the region.
“Diminishing Canada’s engagement with the Palestinian Authority would only strengthen the positions of organizations that reject the peace process, reject a two-state solution and are not prepared to accept the existence of the State of Israel,” Rae said in a statement on the Liberal party website.
The Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA) praised Canada’s vote at the UN and chastised the PA for “celebrating an empty achievement at the UN.”
Shimon Fogel, the centre’s CEO, also admonished Mulcair for his remarks.
“I understand that it has become part of the job of the Opposition to criticize the government, regardless [of the subject],” he said.
“But the reality is there is no peace process. The reason is because the Palestinians are being enabled to circumvent direct negotiations. Canada’s position exactly reflects that of the Americans and going back to UN Resolution 242, that the only meaningful thing that will advance the peace process is direct negotiations,” Fogel said.
He added: “Mulcair’s little bit of political theatre is nothing more than a distraction that doesn’t meet the basic test that should be applied by him and everybody else: does this advance the interests of the Palestinians? The reality is it does not.”
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called Harper over the weekend to thank Canada for its vote at the UN.
Requests by The CJN to the Prime Minister’s Office for more details about that call were not returned by deadline.
PA President Mahmoud Abbas called the vote the “last chance to save the two-state solution,” while Israeli envoy Ron Prosor said the “resolution does not advance peace.”
Few benefits accrue to the “observer state of Palestine” that the Palestine Liberation Organization, the non-member entity until last Thursday, did not already have.
Membership in constituent UN organizations is still not automatic and “Palestine” must apply for membership in each, as it did when the PLO was a non-member entity.
A Palestinian bid last year to gain full UN membership failed when the bid died in the UN Security Council. Non-member observer status needs only General Assembly approval.
On Sunday, Israel declared its intention to add some 3,000 housing units in the West Bank in response to the UN vote.
Referring to the General Assembly vote, Netanyahu said at the cabinet meeting, “The attack on Zionism and the State of Israel forces us to reinforce and speed up the implementation of the settlement plans in all the areas the government has decided to settle in. These are not my words, but the words of the government of prime minister Yitzhak Rabin in 1975 following the UN resolution that compared Zionism to racism.”
Harper’s spokesperson, Andrew MacDougall, told the Globe and Mail on Dec. 3 that Israel’s decision to build more housing amounted to a unilateral decision.
“Canada’s position is that unilateral actions on either side do not advance the peace process,” he said.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton criticized Israel’s decision on Friday during a speech at the Saban Center for Middle East Policy in Washington.
“In light of today’s announcement, let me reiterate that this administration… has been very clear with Israel that these activities set back the cause of a negotiated peace,” Clinton said.
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said in a statement that Israel’s construction would “represent an almost fatal blow to remaining chances of securing a two-state solution.”
The foreign ministries of France, Britain, Spain, Denmark and Sweden on Monday summoned and sharply rebuked the Israeli ambassadors to their countries, following a series of steps taken by Israel since the UN vote. An Israeli official quoted by Israel Radio said the tone of the rebukes was “harsh and very unpleasant.”
An official from Netanyahu’s bureau said Israel would not reverse its decision to approve an expansion of settlement building, even in the face of European pressure.
With files from JTA and TimesofIsrael.com