The recent UN security council resolution condemning the illegal Israel settlements in occupied Palestinian territory continues to have echoes around the world. It has clearly shaken Mr. Netanyahu, who has launched a frenzied counterattack. But it could also cause two big problems for Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. Read why...
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has warned his foreign ministers that the Security Council motion 2334 could be just the start of a broader movement to call Israel to account. He has lashed out against ALL of the 15 voting members of the security council, reserving special venom for Barak Obama and John Kerry. He declared that Israel will not abide by the resolution, and has said he will “reassess” his relations with the United Nations itself.
But the resolution is already starting to cause problems for Canada’s prime minister Justin Trudeau, and is likely to cause more in the year to come.
Key element of Trudeau domestic strategy in jeopardy
The UN Security council resolution has put Israel-Palestine on the front pages of the Toronto Star and many other Canadian papers. This is awkward for Trudeau whose winning domestic electoral strategy included deliberately keeping the Israel/Palestine issue off the Canadian political agenda. Unlike the Harper Tories, who hoped to continue to make Israel a ‘wedge” issue, Trudeau did the opposite. During the election and since, the Liberals gave repeated private assurances to Jewish groups that they “have Israel’s back”. At the same time, they made bland public statements officially supporting a “2 state solution” aimed at pleasing those who are concerned about the human rights of Palestinians.
By avoiding taking a clear position, Trudeau was able to earn back some of the Jewish vote that had gone to Mr. Harper, without alienating traditional Liberal constituencies or the growing Palestinian/Muslim/Arab vote in Canada.
UNSC resolution 2334 however, left little room for ambiguity. Security council members had to make a clear choice, and they did. Their unanimous verdict was that all of the settlements, including those in East Jerusalem, are illegal. Based on that vote, Israel is committing war crimes. (Trudeau must be relieved we were not already on the Security Council when the resolution was presented.)
Conservatives and Canada’s Israel lobby are already attacking Trudeau, demanding he denounce the unanimous UN vote. But choosing sides is what Trudeau wants to avoid. So far, he has wriggled off the hook, with Global Affairs Minister Stephane Dion issuing only a weak statement reiterating that Canada still supports a “2 state solution.” Whether that will be enough to keep pro-Israel Jewish voters onside, or whether they will revert to the Conservatives, is yet to be seen.
And an international objective also now in trouble…
In addition to this domestic headache, the UN resolution also causes an international problem for Trudeau, who has made it clear that he wants to see Canada elected to the UN Security council.
That will not be easy. While Canadians think our country enjoys a high international reputation, others may not have the same view. Canada’s chances are already diminished by Trudeau’s recent record of faithfully defending Israel in various UN bodies. In the first 13 months since Trudeau was elected, Canada has voted against 16 motions critical of Israel in the General Assembly. In most of those resolutions, Canada was one of only 5 or 6 countries (including the USA and Israel) to shield Israel.
But the passage of Security Council motion 2334 causes a new and much bigger problem for Trudeau because, it calls upon “all States, (…) to distinguish, in their relevant dealings, between the territory of the State of Israel and the territories occupied since 1967;”
And unlike motions in the General Assembly, resolutions adopted by the Security Council are binding on all UN members including Canada.
In other words, if Canada refuses to make a distinction between Israel and the occupied territories, then Canada ITSELF will be in violation of a UN Security Council resolution and also of international law. (Not an enviable position for a country hoping to be elected to that body.) But making such a distinction, as many European countries are now discussing, is surely going to be strenuously opposed by Canada’s Israel lobby.
To comply or not comply that is the question
Today, Canada makes no distinction between the State of Israel and the Occupied Territories in either commerce or immigration policy. Goods imported into Canada from the Occupied Territories are treated as if they were coming from Israel. And Canada allows settlers who the UN has now said live “illegally” in occupied territory, to enter Canada without a visa, like any other Israeli citizen. (Ironically, we do impose a visa requirement on the Palestinians who live legally there.)
In order to comply with this binding UN resolution, Canada could take two minimal steps:
- Canada could renegotiate the Canada-Israel Free Trade Agreement to demand that goods originating in the Occupied Territories be labelled as such.
- Canada could revise its immigration regulations to make a distinction between Israelis living inside Israel today and those who live in the illegal settlements.
Neither of these steps is unprecedented. Canada has negotiated side-bar agreements with Chile, Mexico and the USA, for example. And modifying immigration regulations to impose visa obligations on illegal settlers would not be a particular challenge either.
So – a dilemma for Mr. Trudeau.
- Abide by UNSC resolution 2334 and run the risk of angering the powerful Israel lobby in Canada
- Ignore UNSC 2334 and run the risk of being called out for hypocritically seeking membership in a body whose binding resolutions it patently flouts.
Lets see what he does.
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