Stephen Harper is not doing Israel any favours: Siddiqui
By Haroon Siddiqui, Toronto Star, December 1, 2012
If the UN decision to recognize Palestine was as meaningless as it’s made out to be, why did its opponents fight so ferociously against it?
Of course, the vote was significant. Its critics knew that as well — hence the panic, before and after it.
The vote was overwhelming, more than two-thirds in favour — 138 for, 9 against and 41 abstentions. Much to Canada’s shame, Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird was among the loudest pipsqueak noises against the tide of history.
Even the United States, chief patron of Israel, was subdued, dishing out brief boilerplate statements. But the voluminous Baird was keen to showcase Canada in the august company of the Czech Republic, Panama, Marshall Islands, Micronesia, Nauru and Palau.
Now he’s threatening to retaliate against the Palestinian Authority. Earlier this year, he retaliated against Iran by ending all ties. Before that, the Harper government offended so many Arab and African states that they killed Canada’s 2010 bid for a Security Council seat.
The resounding UN call in support of a viable, independent Palestinian state came days after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was forced to retreat from his war on Gaza and agree to a detailed deal with the terrorist Hamas.
At the UN, he lost to Hamas’s rival, the Palestinian Authority, whose non-violent leader Mahmoud Abbas is ostensibly the favoured Israeli interlocutor. The Gaza operation only helped garner more support at the UN, including that of Hamas.
Earlier, Netanyahu had lost the gamble of forcing President Barack Obama into a war on Iranian nuclear facilities. And in siding with Mitt Romney, he failed to sway Jewish American voters, 70 per cent of whom voted for the president.
Netanyahu has not served Israel well. But that’s for Israelis to judge in their election next month. However, in supporting his recklessness, Harper has not done Israel any favours, either.
The prime minister portrays himself as a staunch ally of Israel, and tends to brand those who don’t agree with him as anti-Semitic and bully them — as discovered by the Christian ecumenical group Kairos, the Canadian Arab Federation and Palestine House, whose funding was cut, and Montreal-based Rights and Democracy, which was destroyed.
In fact, what Harper has done is to take sides with the right wing in an ideological and political struggle within Israel and the Jewish diaspora. He could have sided with those who do not agree with Israeli expansionism and permanent war on the Palestinians.
At the UN, the Palestinians were not taking a “short cut” to statehood, as he charged. The vote does not replace the peace process, only augments it. But that process has already been undermined by Netanyahu, who refuses to end illegal Jewish settlements.
As Ehud Olmert, former Israeli prime minister, said, the Palestinian path to the UN is “congruent” with the two-state solution.
There’s also nothing “unilateral” in turning to the world’s biggest multilateral institution, which, pre-Harper, Canada used to support enthusiastically. The Palestinians have gone to the same body that helped create Israel in the 1940s.
They are not breaching the 1993 Oslo Peace Accord, either. That was derailed long ago, by Netanyahu during his first stint as prime minister. He may now use the UN vote to gut it completely and move the goalposts with new conditions for peace. On Friday, he approved additional Jewish housing in East Jerusalem, which Hagit Ofran, of the Israeli Settlement Watch project for Peace Now, called a potential “deal breaker for the two-state solution.”
UN “non-member state” status would let the Palestinians participate in General Assembly debates. It may allow them to join the World Trade Organization, the World Health Organization, the World Intellectual Property Organization, the World Bank and the International Criminal Court.
The fuss over the UN vote comes from those who want to keep the Palestinians at the mercy of Israel — and whack them at the slightest show of defiance.
This is what the U.S. did last year after UNESCO voted overwhelmingly to grant them membership. It yanked its $80-million annual contribution. That did not stop the organization from defining West Bank holy sites sacred to both Jews and Muslims as “Palestinian.”
Now, Congress might cut its $500-million-a-year funding to the Palestinian Authority — even though that would only reduce the ability of the PA to maintain security for Israel.
Netanyahu may go further. He may withhold the tax revenues Israel collects on behalf of the PA. His foreign minister may want to “topple” Abbas, as per a leaked memo.
It is such self-defeating tactics, and the 45-year occupation of Palestinian lands and the perpetually expanding Israeli borders, that have left Israel so sadly isolated.
By backing those policies, Harper has isolated Canada as well and undermined Canada’s once-honoured place in the world.