The Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA) has offered to be “the Canadian interlocutor” between Israel and the Palestinian Authority (PA) to help restart the peace process.
Although CIJA has not been officially endorsed by Ottawa to act in this capacity, senior members of CIJA met with PA President Mahmoud Abbas and other high-ranking Fatah officials during a visit to Israel and the West Bank on June 24.
They also met with high-ranking Israeli officials. Their meeting with Abbas was not widely publicized.
A spokesperson for Canada’s Representative Office to the Palestinian Authority wrote in an email that it facilitates dozens of meetings every year between senior Canadian and Palestinian figures, and it did so for CIJA.
At the meetings late last month, CIJA CEO Shimon Fogel and its chair, David Koschitzky, spoke with Abbas, as well as with Palestinian legislative council member Saeb Erekat, Fatah central committee member Nabil Shaath, PA policy planning adviser Majdi al-Khalidi and PA presidential hopeful Mustafa Barghouti, among others.
Chris Greenshields, Canada’s representative to the Palestinian Authority, also attended CIJA’s meeting with Abbas.
Reached by phone in Ottawa on July 3, Fogel told The CJN that it was not the first time CIJA representatives had met with the PA, seeking to establish a role for Canada as a moderator in the peace process.
“The rationale for us to meet with Palestinian leadership… is to get a sense of what [the PA] is thinking at any given time – what their perspective is. At a very basic level, the purpose of these encounters was to update ourselves on the positions and concerns of the Palestinians as they relate to Israel, and the potential for a return to direct negotiations,” Fogel said.
He added the impetus for CIJA’s visit was a trilateral invitation by the PA, Israeli and Canadian governments.
The trip also served as an opportunity for CIJA to raise concerns with the PA about issues regarding incitement of hatred against Jews and Israelis that have become “toxically” entrenched in both the Palestinian media and its educational systems, Fogel said.
He said he and Koschitzky also asked PA representatives why they don’t simply recognize Israel as a Jewish state.
The PA’s responses were not “entirely satisfying,” he said.
“On issues like incitement, [the PA] diminish both their own responsibility for what’s being broadcast and what messages are being conveyed to the Palestinian people. And their rebuttal is always, ‘Well, there’s incitement on Israel’s part, too.’”
Fogel said that in his opinion, there is no equivalence between incitement by some “hard-line” individuals in Israel and a state-sponsored system of incitement by the PA.
Asked about the possibility of CIJA being officially sanctioned by the Canadian government to be part of the effort to restart the peace process, Fogel said his organization has been “encouraged [by Canada] to take this kind of role.”
“Without exaggerating our influence or importance, we see ourselves as genuinely trying to offer whatever modest contribution we can make to the peace process and to greater understanding,” Fogel said.
On this latest visit, CIJA had hoped to identify some potential role Canada could play in the peace process. While that role has yet to be established, he said both the PA and Israel “expressed interest in Canada taking a more vigorous role in the talks.”
Fogel said CIJA will “formally communicate” its findings to Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird shortly.
Rick Roth, a spokesperson for Baird, said that the the foreign ministry has "a great and ongoing relationship with CIJA. However, we are not going to go into the specifics of our discussions."
In 2007, Ottawa announced it would provide $300 million over five years to help the Palestinian people reduce levels of poverty, increase security, shore up governance, increase prosperity and engage in the peace process.