A Canuck in Israel: don’t mention occupation

Benjamin Netanyahu got to pal up with Stephen Harper, but Canada’s policy remains opposed to Israel’s illegal expansion.

These days, Israel is increasingly appreciative when foreign leaders visit.

But for the Canadian prime minister, Stephen Harper, they pulled out all the stops.

Harper brought five cabinet ministers and 200 figures from business, religion and culture for his first trip to Israel.

They were given a royal welcome in gratitude – Harper has a hard-earned reputation as Benjamin Netanyahu’s favourite foreign counterpart.

And Harper did not disappoint.

In his speech to parliament, he praised Israel as the only durable free and democracy in the Middle East and made several pointed references to ‘the Jewish state”, formal recognition of which has become one of Netanyahu’s unconditional provisions in a final peace deal with the Palestinians.

Harper made due acknowledgement of his support for a Palestinian state and at their joint news conference, Harper said he and the Israeli leader differ over the ongoing expansion of settlements in the occupied West Bank.

But he said he won’t stress that issue. “To raise the topic when somebody is a minority, particularly a small minority in the world,” Harper said of Jews, “one goes out of one’s way to embrace them, not to single them out for criticism.”

In a perfunctory visit to Ramallah, Harper met the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, and pledged $66 million more aid to his cash-starved government.

But some of the goodwill curdled when local journalists accused Harper’s bodyguards of assaulting them as they tried to follow the prime minister into the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem.

A scheduled stop at the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem was then cancelled for supposed security concerns.

Despite the coziness with Netanyahu, Canada’s official Middle East policy, as recently laid out by its foreign ministry, lines up with the EU, the US and most other countries. It holds that the settlements are illegal and an obstacle to peace and that Canada doesn’t recognise Israel’s annexation of East Jerusalem.

Whatever momentary comfort Netanyahu might have drawn from his friend’s stopover, Israelis were offered a reality check this week by Tzipi Livni, the justice minister whose small, dovish party is a partner in Israel’s coalition government.

She warned that if the current round of negotiations with the Palestinians collapse, Israel will face the same kind of worldwide isolation that brought an end to apartheid South Africa.

That’s why, despite hugs from the Canadians,  she says “I scream” to Netanyahu and his supporters, “wake up!”

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