What did the Green Party decide about Israel/Palestine at its Calgary convention?

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About 300 members of the Green Party of Canada (GPC) met in Calgary on Dec. 3/4 at a special general convention. The main objective was to review a controversial motion adopted last August to support BDS, the movement to boycott Israel. But now there are contradictory reports about what was decided in Calgary. Was it a step forward, or a step back? What really happened? Read more.

Media reporting on the outcome of the GPC special convention in Calgary could hardly have been more confusing… or more contradictory.

Some journalists claimed that the GPC had specifically turned its back on supporting the movement to boycott Israel known as BDS.

However, other reports claimed the opposite:

What really happened?

So what really happened? Why can’t the media get its story right? Did the GPC reinforce its opposition to Israel’s policies or did it water down its position?

The confusion seems to stem from the interpretation of a “compromise resolution”  awkwardly entitled “Measures to pressure the government of Israel to preserve the two-state solution: addendum to current Middle East Policy.”

That compromise resolution had been carefully worked out by proponents of the earlier BDS motion, led by former GPC Shadow Cabinet member Dimitri Lascaris, and representatives of Party leader Elizabeth May who was strongly opposed to it. The new resolution left out mention of BDS, but did criticize Israel and called for increasing pressure on Israel through sanctions and economic boycott.

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When the “compromise resolution” was finally put to a vote after several hours of discussion, a sea of green cards indicated overwhelming approval.

Debate on the motion at the convention took up most of Saturday. More than 20 different people intervened, mostly in favour of the motion, but there were also a number of strong critics. In the end, after several attempts to attain “consensus”,  in a recorded vote over 84% of the delegates approved the compromise resolution.

Different interpretations

However, almost as soon as the ink was dry, there were different interpretations.

While some thought the GPC decision was an “historic step forward”, Green Party leadership seemed to downplay both the debate and the motion despite the fact that this was the prime reason for the special general meeting. The official GPC press release issued immediately after the convention barely mentioned the controversial Israel/Palestine debate, focussing instead on electoral reform and the Trudeau governments Kinder Morgan pipeline decisions.

Green Party Leader Elizabeth May went further in an interview with Canadian Jewish News saying that she supported the compromise resolution “because it rejects the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel.”

It appears that May feels the need to politically distance herself, and the Party, from the BDS movement. “It needs to be said very clearly that the BDS movement does not understand the issue properly and is in fact undermining the peace process itself,” May told The CJN, the day after the addendum passed.

May’s statement appeared to come as a surprise to many GPC members. “Although the consensus resolution does not endorse the BDS movement, I am aware of no GPC policy which “explicitly rejects” the notion of boycotting Israel”, commented Lascaris.

It is not clear if May does not understand, or just wants to downplay, the fact that the new GPC resolution, while making no reference to the BDS movement, adopts all its main demands, and endorses its non-violent tactics.

A step forward or a step back?

Whether consciously or not, in adopting the new “compromise resolution”, the GPC has made a tactical decision. It agreed to drop its open endorsement of the BDS movement, but adopted the main democratic demands of the 3 main groups of Palestinians: the refugees, those under occupation, and the Palestinian citizens of Israel. The GPC now is the only Canadian political party to express concern and support for all 3 major groups.

“BE IT RESOLVED the GPC calls on the Government of Israel to: respect the intent of UN Resolution 194, (on the right of Palestinians to return – ed), the implementation of which is to be negotiated in good faith with the legitimate representatives of the Palestinians, accord to the Arab-Palestinian population of Israel equal political and civil rights, and end Israel’s illegal occupation of the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT) and the Golan Heights, and Israel’s siege of Gaza.”

– GPC resolution S16-P013

What next?

The compromise resolution must still pass an on-line ratification vote by the GPC general membership. Voting is now open and closes February 6, 2017. Although the motion was overwhelmingly passed by the 300 members present in Calgary, it is not known how well it will fare when put to the GPC’s 20,000 members.

Either way, it seems clear that debate over what the GPC policy is, or should be, with respect to the difficult Israel/Palestine issue, will continue for some time.The new resolution leaves lots of space for human rights activists within the party to continue to do education on the Israel/Palestine issue.

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Canada Talks Israel Palestine (CTIP) aims to promote a serious discussion in Canada about the complicated and emotional Israel/Palestine issue. If you support our educational mission, why not join? Or make a donation? Or learn more about what we do?  Contact us at: membership.ctip@gmail.com.

 

 

15 comments

  1. The GPC position includes a call for “The repeal the House of Commons resolution condemning the BDS movement (Vote #14, 42nd Parliament, 1st Session; 22 February 2016.)”.

    I consider this very important.

  2. Thanks, Peter. Did May go on record as in support of the compromise resolution, or did she keep her hands free to try and dilute it further when it is put to an online referendum of the GPC membership?

    1. Elizabeth May voted for the consensus resolution. But in any case, the resolution can not be changed for the online ratification process. It must be voted up or down as is.

  3. Thanks for the excellent overview of the Green Special General Meeting vote on the ‘consensus resolution’ and the muddied waters created by both the party leadership and the press. It helps to have your cogent voice to sort out all the noise.

  4. It seems to me that this is simply more dancing in the head of a pin. UN résolutions are not matters for coffee break, they are binding on the contracting parties. Israel is obliged to obey the content of the resolution, not its “intent “. Israel’s statehood was granted with its express adoption on UNR 194, the only ambiguity was “at the earliest practical date”. Seems to me that date must have come by now. The vapidness if this compromise is transparent. Lip service to Palestinian aspirations, but enough room to backtrack if necessary. This compromise doesn’t make them principled it makes them irrelevant.

    1. @John

      Israel was not a member of the UN at the time. 194 was passed Dec 11, 1948. Israel was admitted to the UN May 11. 1949. Israel did however at the time post many objections to 194. It never agreed to a unlimited right of everyone claiming to be a refugee or counted as one by UNRWA to be admitted. In 1949 there was a UN conference on implementation to negotiate which of any parts of 194 Israel would agree to that occurred between April and September 1949. Israel rejected the notion of right of return there as well, and not this occurred prior to their admission in the UN, “Israel was not established on basis of the resolution but on that of successful war of defense. Because the Arab states refused to make peace, he regarded refugees potential enemies of Israel.” (US department of state).

      In 1951 there were discussions between Israel and Transjordan of a land swap and permanent resettlement of refugees in Jordan providing that Israel allowed those desiring return instead of resettlement to do so. When word of these negotiations spread King Abdullah was assassinated and the negotiations ended.

      You are entitled to your own opinion about right of return, you are not entitled to your own facts about what Israel ever agreed to.

      More importantly for today: the refugees from the 1947-9 war are dead. They died of old age. They can’t be repatriated. The Israeli politicians in the late 1940s and early 1950s who refused UN 194 are also dead. UN 194 like many other policies has expired as simply no longer relevant. There is no Mandate Palestine, it has been Israel for 2 1/2 generations. There is no right of return for people allowing people who never lived in Palestine nor Israel to return to Israel. What should or should not have happened in the late 1940s and early 1950s is simply irrelevant to current day policy.

      As is the norm for refugees repatriation was attempted first. As happens quite often in refugee situations repatriation was unsuccessful. What is unusual is that resettlement was not finalized. That is the problem. UN 194 was written before it was known that repatriation failed.

      1. I want to amend my comment with one editorial point which is relevant for today regarding denormalization. The debate regarding 194 were presented as dictates to Israel, Israel didn’t fold. The later Lausanne Conference of 1949 was conducted without direct negotiations, the Arab countries had a policy of denormalization at the time. Even with strong pressure from the world including the United States a much weaker Israel did not fold.

        However, the 1951 negotiations between Israel and Abdullah I of Jordan by all accounts were going well. It was likely that Israel was going to readmit those Palestinians who refused full Jordanian citizenship and insisted on their right to return up to 100k refugees. Those negotiations were conducted on the basis of give and take, a negotiation of mutual interests. Abdullah I strongly considered a separate peace. There was no spirit of denormalization. Abdullah throughout his rein even though he was willing to war against the Yishuv Israel, saw Jews as a legitimate people and Israel as a fully legitimate state. In those talks progress was made. Moshe Dayan did make concessions well beyond what Ben Gurion had allowed in 1949. Ultimately the Arab League, especially the Kingdom of Egypt’s, through threats against Jordan and and Abdullah’s death was successful in in eliminating Jordanian involvement.

        I think this example shows how unsuccessful denormalization was when applied to a much weaker Israel and in a way more forcefully than BDS is ever likely to achieve. Israel has a track record. Israel when condemned unifies internally and resists. Israel when seriously threatened escalates and starts wars. Israel when treated decently is capable of concessions.

        The BDS tactic of trying to recreate the political of the 1950s is not going to be successful. But even if one imagines an environment where there was strong buy-in to 1950s style pressure, like a NATO blockade, Israel’s likely response would not be surrendering to such pressure but rather to escalate tensions threatening war and ultimately if the pressure didn’t let up actually engaging in war. BDSers mostly don’t have a plausible plan, for how to create much pressure on Israel. The world applies the sort of pressure BDS recommends to North Korea quite reluctantly, even though their human rights record is atrocious. There is generally a strong desire on the part of most relevant powers (China, USA, Japan…) to reduce tensions not increase them. I’ve never yet heard a BDS plan on how to contain the reactions of a powerful nuclear state to massive international pressure and hostility if BDS even were successfully in creating that pressure.

        I have never been able to understand how large numbers of intelligent people subscribe to a policy that has no plan how for how to achieve its intermediate state and no plan for how to avoid outcomes even if it did achieve its intermediate state.

      2. @cd-host

        Most people would assume BDS is a rational state with ratonal citizens.

        You reduce the argument to being one that Israel is irrational by comparing it’s behaviour under sanctions with that of North Korea. Some might be tempted to agree.

        Repatriation was never attempted. And despite your totally false claims there are many refugees of Israeli ethnic cleansing both from the original 40’s crimes against humanity but also from the subsequent illegal acquisition and cleansing of territory in the following 65 plus years.

        If there is any form of justice Israel needs to be held accountable for it’s crimes against humanity. Crimes not only numerous but crimes which have destroyed the lives of millions

      3. Your points are extremely well taken, CD-Host. Canada should be helping to resettle Palestinian Arabs who can’t reconcile to the State of Israel – and Canada would be well advised to help organize a nucleus of countries within the UN that are willing to take on this process. Your points about BDS having no concrete goals are valid. Israel is becoming a de facto source of security for its Arab neighbours, and it will continue to gain in acceptance so long as militant Shia continues to attack Sunni countries. Canada should be taking a tough love approach to the Palestinian Authority, and make it clear that if the PA is not capable of indicating to Israel, that the Palestinian state would be a possible future ally of Israel, that Israel sees no logic in reconciling with such a malicious neighbour. The two faced antics of Palestinian leadership do not go unnoticed – and Canada should be explicit that evidence that Palestinians are secretly filled with antipathy toward what Israel, disqualifies a Palestinian state from viability.

  5. A much needed clarification of the confusion attending this issue. Thanks Peter.
    Boycotts can be effective in motivating change and it seems it will take some such pressure for Israel to realize it cannot continue to act as it does and allow the settlements to act as they do, and expect unqualified support from the rest of the democratic world.

  6. @Anonymous —

    Israel is a rational state with rational citizens. An individual human’s self interest is tied tightly to the interests of society in which they live. The interests of the society are long term and extend beyond individual lives. Humans are rationally interested in the health of their children and grandchildren (and on) because they are going to die. Human reproduction depends on parents making substantial sacrifices in the present to benefit their progeny. Surrendering to most threats is short term more profitable than contesting them. Yet just about every animal engages in altruistic behavior where it punishes aggression against itself even to its self detriment because collectively that behavior pays off. One of the primary advantages humans have is the ability to form super societies where non closely related people’s pool their interests. Successful cultures, that is to say rational cultures, are those that developed accurate payoff matrices regarding aggression against their society. Most successful lifeforms on this planet engage in altruistic behavior. That sort of behavior is rational.

    The 3 BDS demands in combination implemented regarding what is the current day Palestinian population most likely result in the permanent enslavement of the Jewish population. Almost any outcome is rationally preferable to that outcome. Its why Canada even if it whole heartedly supported BDS’s demand could never impose them on Israel. The final disposition of the West Bank and Gaza is a matter of the gravest national security to Israel, it doesn’t make the top 500 issues for Canada. The successful integration of the Israeli Arabs is a vital matter for Israel it doesn’t make the top 500 for Canada. Avoiding their country being consumed by a hostile population is existential necessity for Israel, the outcome of return under the current circumstances would be worse for Israel than a nuclear exchange. Canada is never going to be remotely willing to lose a single city to make sure that right of return is implemented. Canada (to whatever extent they impact the situation) would never allow tensions to rise remotely high enough with Israel to force Israel to implement these demands. And similarly most of the west.

    There is nothing irrational about Israeli behavior in ferociously fighting the BDS demands. It is perfectly rational for them try and escape a choice between a permanent punitive sanctions regime and a horrific outcome by destabilizing the situation. It was precisely this situation they were faced with in 1954 and the 1956 war successfully altered the payoff matrix for the Eisenhower administration so that their rational behavior became to shift towards Israel. Surrender is not always the rational option for societies. Israel is much more powerful today. They would be quite rational not irrational in threatening to turn what is a non violent sanctions regime into an active war because the other side would never be able to justify the cost of a war for the Palestinians.

    Now that’s not to say there aren’t ways of implementing something very much like those demands in ways that aren’t so threatening that Israel has no choice but to resist with everything its got and then some. But thinking of ways to achieve compromise is precisely what BDS was designed to counter. It is a reaction against negotiation. Denormalization is dehumanization, it seeks to treat the enemy as an existential enemy rather than a situational enemy.

    It is also important to note that successful cultures create means of interpreting information consistent with the cultures survival. Memes are selfish. North Korea’s historical world view, political indoctrination, hatred for the U.S., and authoritarian cultural norms has allowed North Korean culture to sustain itself under extraordinary pressure for decades. Jewish culture has had extraordinary pressure applied to it for many centuries and has at least close to as powerful mechanism for self preservation it could and would draw on. One can argue about when it makes sense for individuals to abandon their nation / culture for naked self preservation but the bar is extraordinarily high. The average life of individual defeated peoples is generally horrific often for many generations. Ask the Kurds how much they have individually suffered from their failed revolt in 1607-10. It has taken them 4 centuries to achieve even semi autonomy for a fraction of their people and even then only at the expense of tremendous loses over the last generation.

    ____

    As for repatriation being attempted of course it was attempted multiple times by the world powers. Israel refused repeatedly diplomatically, engaged in a policy of shooting infiltrators and had multiple border skirmishes when bordering countries encouraged illegal repatriation. The attempts at repatriation failed. I never claimed Israel attempted repatriation I claimed the UN and the broader world community did.

    As for refugees from other times they weren’t being addressed. With the exception of 1967 the flow has been slow. Right now the world community has been able to create a situation where it is not in Israel’s perceived interests to create a rapid flow of refugees. Change the payoff matrix
    you may very well change the policy. There is nothing irrational about responding to changing payoffs on Israel’s part.

    In short I think most leftists imperialist (and this one isn’t peculiar to BDS) comes from confusing “rational” with “short term economic self interest” and thus underestimating the importance of nation and culture for longer term economic self interest and interests for the welfare of one’s progeny.

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