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Dear Ryan: Canadian policy in the Middle East

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Ryan Leef
Member of Parliament, Yukon
Letter #6

Dear Ryan,
Thank you for your lengthy and thoughtful letter. I will respond to your comments in the next letter since this one is near completion.

Currently, I am working on a project in Winnipeg. This city has a large Jewish population. Its rich culture has permeated every day life. Yiddish words are used by Jews and non-Jews alike. One word you might be familiar with is chutzpah. It is commonly used to praise someone with the wit and nerve to succeed when success is unlikely. Yukon's own "Klondike" Joe Boyle might be described as a person with chutzpah.

An older definition of the word is darker. Chutzpah describes a young man who, having just murdered his parents, demands clemency from the judge by declaring; "Your honour, I deserve mercy because I am an orphan."

The Yukon Party encouraged a claiming rush in the Peel watershed while development was being studied. Properly, there should have been a moratorium. It takes real chutzpah for Premier Pasloski to now say we can't afford to protect the Peel because of mining claims.

On Sept. 27, Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu showed chutzpah by announcing new Jewish settlements on Palestinian land in East Jerusalem; a mere four days after telling the United Nations, "I extend my hand to the Palestinian people, with whom we seek a just and lasting peace."

This brings me to the subject of this, my sixth letter; Canada's policy on the Middle East.

Last month, the Palestinian President, Mahmoud Abbas, asked for membership in the United Nations. He said; "the State of Palestine affirms its commitment to the achievement of a just, lasting and comprehensive resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict based on the vision of two states living side by side in peace and security." The western world, led by the United States and aided by Canada, scolded Mr. Abbas; telling him that first the Palestinians must first negotiate peace with Israel.

Although Mr. Abbas and the Fatah Party have made attempts in recent years to rein in extremists and clean up security in the West Bank; missiles continue to be lobbed from Gaza which is under Hamas rule. It is understandable that Israelis insist that they have the right to self defence. Strangely, new Jewish settlements pop up like mushrooms in the West Bank and not in Gaza. Increasingly emboldened Israeli hardliners are the king makers for Benjamin Netanyahu's Likud party, keeping it in power. Are Israelis sincere in their desire to negotiate peace? Actions speak louder than words.

The recent bid for membership at the United Nations could be a game changer in this region. At present; Palestinians live in a stateless limbo without judicial, political or even real property rights. Membership in the UN would be a first step towards nationhood. Palestinians in Gaza might abandon Hamas in favour of a fair deal. The claim by American interests that nation status for Palestine could lead to violent protests in the West Bank is absurd. It is the lack of nationhood and self-determination that leads to violence.

Israeli is becoming dangerously isolated. Its very existence is dependant upon military, political and financial aid from the United States. However, America's future is looking grimmer by the day. The number of corrupt despots in the region with whom Israel could cut deals has decreased due to Arab Spring. This year, Israel managed to alienate even Turkey with whom Jews have had historical links since the fifteenth century when Sultan Mehmed sent ships to Spain to rescue and offer refuge to the Diaspora. Turkey was among the first nations to recognize Israel in 1948. The loss of this one true friend in the region is huge.

The two-state solution in the Middle East involves several difficulties; the location of borders being among the most contentious. Israel is vehemently opposed to the 1967 border which did not include the West Bank or Gaza. The West Bank has been so carved up by Jewish settlements that it is beginning to resemble Swiss cheese. How can the Palestinians form a viable nation with what is left?

The list of atrocities committed by both Israelis and Palestinians since 1948 is very long. It clear to anyone without an axe to grind that there isn't any high moral ground left in the region. Up until 2006, Canada's policy in the Middle East reflected this reality and we championed for peace.

All of this has changed under the stewardship of the Conservative government which has given unconditional support for Israel. This policy does nothing to promote justice for Palestinians or security for Israelis. Unlike the Americans, we have no political or economic interests in the region. I am baffled. Truly Ryan, a real friend to Israel would be calling on them to negotiate in good faith with Palestine. Their very existence may depend on it.
I hope you will encourage your Conservative colleagues and Foreign Affairs Minister, John Baird, to vote for membership for Palestine at the United Nations.

May your time in Ottawa be constructive and may you always walk on the high road.

Respectfully yours,
Linda Leon

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