Ohad Nakash Kaynar is the deputy head of mission at Israel’s Embassy in Ottawa (Ambassador Nimrod Barkan departed late last year and has not yet been replaced). A graduate of Tel Aviv University’s Middle East studies program, he worked as a journalist for Yedioth Ahronoth and the Jerusalem Post before joining the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs. He served as deputy head of mission in Israel’s embassies in Istanbul and Budapest and then became deputy spokesperson for Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs before assuming his current assignment last August.
Will the peace plan proposed by U.S. President Donald Trump hurt or help Israel’s prime minister?
As diplomats, we are not servants of a particular prime minister but of all prime ministers and all parties in Israel, so I won’t take a political stance on whether this is positive or negative for this party or that party.
It’s a positive for Israelis, that’s 100 per cent, and potentially, a positive for Palestinians as well. It depends on whether they finally reach out to join us at the negotiation table, where we’ve been waiting for them for a long time.
The proposal was widely criticized as a deal between the United States and Israel, leaving the Palestinians out. Can Israel use the deal to get Palestinians to the table?
I want to correct that: the Palestinians left themselves out. It wasn’t the Americans. The Palestinians didn’t come to the table more during the Obama days than they are during the Trump days. Palestinian rejectionism now has a price. That is the main point of the Trump peace deal. If they come to the table, they would have a very fruitful negotiation. There are some ideas in the plan that we assume are beneficial to the Palestinians and are not fantasy. They can occur. The issue is the rejectionism that has been going on since 1989.
People need to come to the table and negotiate if they have the will to have a state. When they’re not there, then the chances that they will gain should be limited, and so far, there has been no U.S. president to take them to task for their rejectionism. Even Bill Clinton, if I’m not mistaken, put the blame on the Palestinians for their failure to negotiate then, but there was no price to be paid.
So what is the expectation that, as time goes by, they will receive more? That’s not the way negotiations work in any other field. Why would it work that way now? If they feel that it’s not good enough, they should come and negotiate for a better deal. But rejecting it altogether, that’s a different story.
For the average Palestinian, this plan presents opportunity. I don’t think it takes opportunity away from them. The question is: Is their leadership willing to move forward? Israel’s work with the Palestinians over the last 10 or 15 years has been to make it a place where they actually have a good enough life so that they think before they want to throw it away. And this is coming into play now in the West Bank. It seems they feel they have something to lose, that they don’t want to progress in a negative direction.
What can Israel do to improve its image in Canada?
We see Canada as an extremely friendly country, just as friendly as the United States.
We work directly with the government here, with Global Affairs Canada, on topics that are of relevance to both countries.
We do innovation and public diplomacy work. We also do trade here. We are working very hard to promote these ties even further. We have the updated Canada-Israel Free Trade Agreement that was put into place last September. It should bear more economic fruit.
We are working on more memorandums of understanding (MoUs), including a scientific MoU that we are hoping to promote during 2020. There are already quite a few MoUs in play, including on counterterrorism dialogue, where Israel is very beneficial to Canada. There are other areas where Canada is beneficial to Israel. I think that Canadian-Israeli relations are singular. They are principled and they are important.
There is a push on now to add Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) to Canada’s list of terrorist groups. What else can Canada do on the Iran file?
I’m not sure that Canadians have a different role than the international community. You have your role and you’re performing it quite well on several platforms. Iran needs to be contained by the whole of the international community. There are countries that are allowing it – I’ll phrase this carefully – to evade some of its responsibilities. Canada’s not one of those countries.
Canada is participating in coalitions and is very active. You have forces in Iraq these days. You are performing your duty. Could you do more? Maybe.
The IRGC is problematic. It’s a terror entity. For us, there’s no question about it. The listing of the IRGC as a terror organization is occurring in many countries right now. We feel it’s a Canadian interest to do so. Also, when effective, we advocate for putting sanctions into play. We are on the Canadian side. We assume that Canada knows what it’s doing.
This interview has been edited and condensed for style and clarity