“Balanced or not balanced?” Public debate lays bare awkward contradictions in Canadian policy toward Israel/Palestine

The Israel/Palestine issue is a contentious foreign policy issue, but Canada’s position rarely gets debated in open forum. I was delighted that the Canadian International Council organized a public debate on the topic: “Is it now time for Canada to recognize the State of Palestine?” and invited me and Dr. David Matas, Senior counsel to Bnai Brith Canada to participate. Read more and watch the video....

Official Canadian policy toward Israel/Palestine, as outlined on the Global Affairs website is very balanced and very reassuring. Very Canadian.

It talks about support for Israel and support for the Palestinians. It mentions human rights and security and proposes a two-state solution – one for the Israelis and one for the Palestinians. “Canada is committed to (…) the creation of a Palestinian state” it claims. That official position is designed to reassure the Canadian public that Canada is honestly and fairly trying to play a balanced role between Israel and the Palestinians.

But in a recent public debate with Dr. David Matas, Senior legal counsel to Bnai Brith Canada, I tried to focus attention on the fact that Canada actually has two policies – the OFFICIAL one – on our website – and our REAL policy, the one we apply on the ground. The real policy is almost entirely aimed at supporting Israel at the expense of the Palestinians.

The Canadian International Council is an independent, non partisan thinktank on international affairs. It has branches across Canada.

The debate was organized by the National Capital Branch of the Canadian International Council whose membership includes many current and former Canadian diplomats. The topic proposed was “Is it time for Canada to recognize the State of Palestine?”

Canada’s refusal to recognize the State of Palestine, despite the fact that 138 UN members (including 9 EU members) already do so, is one significant indicator of how lopsided our policy is.

If not now…. when?

Canada claims that while it is “committed” to a two state solution in principle, it says that won’t recognize a Palestinian state until…. Israel agrees to it. Of course, this gives Israel a “veto” over our recognition of Palestine.

(An analogy might be that while we recognize equality for women, we won’t agree to a woman’s right to open a bank account until her husband agrees!)

Canada supported UN resolution 181 in 1947 which called for the division of Mandate Palestine into “an Arab state and a Jewish State”. We recognized Israel almost immediately, but 73 years later we still find excuses to not recognize a Palestinian state. The thrust of my argument was that while Canada prides itself on playing a positive role on the international stage, defending equality, human rights and democracy around the world, in the case of Israel/Palestine we do the opposite.

I also pointed out that Canada has repeatedly averted its eyes as Israel continues to undermine the case for a two state solution by continuing to build more and more settlements, roads and even an Israeli university in the West Bank! Our official “support” for a two state solution, is not followed up by any significant efforts to prevent it from ever happening.

In response, Dr. Matas’ outlined 14 reasons why he felt that Canada should not recognize the State of Palestine at this time. (See link to his presentation below.) He placed a lot of emphasis on the fact that the Palestinian Authority lacks the ability to exercise the powers of a state. He did not explore why that is the case.

Is Palestine really a “state” today?

While 138 UN member nations already recognize the State of Palestine, they all know that Palestine today is under Israeli military occupation. As a result, it can’t be a state in the normal sense of “a polity which has a “monopoly on the use of force” over a given territory. Israel has that monopoly of the use of force. Its troops go wherever they want, whenever they want in the West Bank.

The “State of Palestine” today is a subordinate entity completely under the control of the Israeli military. It does not control its own borders, its airwaves, its water, its electricity, its highways or even its population register. Palestinian ministers have to get Israeli “permission” to travel outside the West Bank. Gaza is almost completely sealed off. It also depends on Israel for water and electricity (when it gets any at all).

But, I argued, recognizing the State of Palestine would be a symbolic statement in the direction of Canada’s expressed committment to equality and democracy. And it would serve to move in the direction of levelling a very unequal playing field.

Here is a recording of the hour long debate.

Elizabeth Kingston, the president of the CIC’s National Capital Branch, introduced Dr. Gerald Wright, the moderator as well as the two panelists.

The text of my introductory remarks can be found here:

The text of Dr. Matas’ prepared remarks can be found here.

Canada Talks Israel Palestine (CTIP) is the weekly newsletter of Peter Larson, Chair of the Ottawa Forum on Israel/Palestine (OFIP). It aims to promote a serious discussion in Canada about Canada’s response to the complicated and emotional Israel/Palestine issue with a focus on the truth, clear analysis and human rights for all. Readers with different points of view are invited to make comment.

Want to learn more about us? Go to http://www.ottawaforumip.org

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  1. First I would like to commend Dr. Peter Larson for his clear knowledge of the situation, his clear delivery to the points and his unbiased analysis. When it comes to David Matas, I can say that it was painful for me to listen to him and keep on listening. A demagogue who has nothing tangible or clear answers or any honesty. All he could do is to regurgitate the usual Israeli and Zionist propaganda, by repeatedly mentioning terrorism and presenting the Israeli actions nothing but just wanting peace and really not practicing any oppression, theft, ethnic cleansing, mass incarceration, violence and torture of Palestinian children and a thousand more violations.

    He says that settlers are just moving there as good neighbors. That would’ve been fine, if it was a joke.
    I’ll stop here, since I’m too angry to to go on in lieu of how people like him can forgo decency and humanity, just because they belong to the same tribe or faith.

  2. Good job,Peter. Would be nice to see a written rebuttal to all David’s 14 points. Disappointing to see him characterize Palestinian objections to Israeli settlements in occupied territories as anti-Semitism, a bizarre argument but consistent with denial of a Palestine state — no state, then no occupation then no illegal settlements.

  3. One question for David Matas.
    In reference to his comment that the the settlers are moving to West Bank, as neighbors any where else. (Not to mention the the atrocities they inflict on “Their neighbors).
    Are the Palestinians also have the same rights, can they move to live in Israel?

    1. Hey Jake,
      Actually he did kind of make that argument saying that “arabs” live in Israel, so why can’t Jews live in the WB?

      The point he glossed over however, is that the “arabs” in Israel (Palestinians actually) have been living there since before the State of Israel was created. They didn’t move to Israel – Israel moved to them.

      1. Did you also notice his mention of “descendants” of original Palestinians having different status.

        This is the concern I have about the expiration of claims to land after a few generations have past. This seems to be a strategy of Israeli governments in occupying territories. If you are born there, are you an occupier; can you still be sent “back”? Surely this has been considered.

  4. Hi Peter…I read your 5 pg presentation and glanced at Matas' 18 pgs. I was not able to access the video. I was curious to know given the different lengths of your presentations, whether you both had equal time in the video recording? I basically had the same reaction as Jake;) Well done Peter:) best J  

    1. I don’t understand why you couldn’t access the video. Here is the link again.

      Gerry Wright was a good moderator. We each had 10 min. The ‘text’ sent by Matas was much longer than what he said orally.

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