Foreign Minister John Baird’s trip to Israel over the weekend reaffirmed the abiding ties of friendship between the two nations.
In meetings with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Shimon Peres, talks revolved around how Canada could support Israeli security concerns in the region as well as how both countries could expand on existing economic and cultural ties.
In a statement, Baird’s office called the April 9 meeting with Netanyahu “warm and constructive,” adding that it touched on many issues, including Iran’s continuing nuclear program and its sponsorship of international terrorism, the crisis in Syria, renewed peace talks with the Palestinians and “the value of a constructive Turkey-Israel relationship.”
Netanyahu also asked Baird to consider how Canada might take more of a role in “revitalizing” peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians.
The two politicians also spoke about continued co-operation on energy issues. Israel and Canada jointly announced the creation of the Canada-Israel Energy Science and Technology Fund last October in light of the Jewish state’s newfound massive offshore natural gas and oil reserves.
The fund is supposed to “spur the development of innovative energy technologies and processes that enable the responsible development of unconventional oil and gas resources, including commercial applications that address shared environmental challenges,” Baird’s office said.
It’s also designed to strengthen co-operation in areas of renewable energy and energy efficiency and prompt investment from both countries.
According to the ministry, the fund is expected to “generate $20 to $40 million in collaborative research and development [projects] over the next three years. Two successful Canadian research and development workshops took place in March 2013 and brought together leading Canadian and Israeli stakeholders to identify potential partnering opportunities. The first call for proposals is expected later in April 2013.”
Canada and Israel are also planning to establish what is being called a “Strategic Partnership Agreement,” described by the ministry as “a work plan which will provide both countries concrete benchmarks to further deepen the bilateral relationship.”
Speaking to Israeli media on April 8, Baird said Canada supports Israel’s right to defend itself from its enemies.
Referring to Iran specifically in an interview with Israel’s Channel 10 news, he said if Israel decides to strike unilaterally at Iran, the Iranians will only have themselves to blame, but he stressed that Canada did not support unilateral Israeli military action to thwart Tehran’s rogue nuclear program.
“Iran is clearly doing all it can to waste time in negotiations. Iran is not going to get rewarded for just showing up at the negotiating table,” he said. “Iran represents the biggest threat to international peace and security in the world today, and the world should respond with that in mind.”
In welcoming Baird to Israel, Peres said his country considers Canada and its current government to be “among our closest friends, and I want to thank you for an outstanding friendship which is based not only on interests but on profound values. We appreciate the ongoing support of the Canadian government, and the prime minster. On all occasions, in all domains and with every opportunity your government took a clear and courageous position including a very clear position vis-a-vis the greatest danger of our time, Iran."
He added: “Thank you for what you are, what you represent and the deep friendship to Israel."
Peres also praised the Canadian Jewish community, characterizing it as “exceedingly warm” toward Israel.
Baird also met with Palestinian leadership to determine Canada’s humanitarian aid to the Palestinian Authority.
Canada’s five-year, $300 million aid package to the PA expired April 1. Administration of the funding was transferred to the Department of Foreign Affairs from the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) in late March.
Baird said he had urged Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to return to peace talks with Israel without preconditions, but to no avail, adding that both sides should avoid unilateral actions that could complicate peace efforts.
The minister met with Abbas, Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad and Foreign Minister Riyad al-Malki on April 6.
He told the PA that while Canada continues to “disagree” with the Palestinian leadership’s strategy of a “unilateral path” toward the establishment of its own state, Ottawa continues its support for “security and economic improvements made in recent years and my desire to continue meaningful engagement with the Palestinian Authority.”
“Canada committed $300 million over five years with a focus on assisting security and development in the West Bank,” Baird said in an April 6 statement. “Some of the projects are still underway, and I assured Palestinian leaders that we will see our existing commitments through.”
Asked whether Canada will renew aid funding to the PA, Chris Day, a spokesperson for Baird, told The CJN that the minister decided to “re-profile unspent monies from the [existing] $300 million for projects we've already okayed, including a courthouse project.”
As for future potential investments, Day said Baird visited Ramallah to “hear directly from the PA” about its priorities.
“The minister is reflecting on what he heard and will consult his cabinet colleagues… on next steps upon his return to Ottawa,” Day said.
Baird is scheduled to return to Canada after attending G8 meetings in London next weekend. He has been on an 11-day trip through the Middle East.
With files from TimesOfIsrael.com