How pro-Israel is Stephen Harper's government?

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How pro-Israel is Stephen Harper's government?

It is so pro-Israel that Canada will vote no in the United Nations to recognize a Palestinian state on only half the land that Canadian diplomats promised Palestine 60 years ago.

It is so pro-Israel that it will support illegal settlers and the extreme right in blocking this small step towards righting a historical wrong despite Canada spending tens of millions of dollars on training Palestinian police and other "state-building" measures.

It is so pro-Israel that it will do this despite a higher percentage of Canadians supporting the Palestinian's bid for UN membership than voted Conservative in the last election.

Two-and-a-half months ago, Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird criticized the Palestinian statehood bid, labeling it a "public-relations" exercise. On Friday Harper reiterated this position. "Canada views the action as very regrettable and we will be opposing it," the prime minister said.

Canada is one of only a half dozen countries that has publicly come out against the Palestinian Authority's UN bid and the Conservatives are lobbying "like-minded" countries to do the same (despite the Palestinian Authority sending high-profile emissary, Hanan Ashrawi, to Ottawa to blunt such a move). On June 24, the New York Times reported, "Canada... has been lobbying smaller countries to tell the Palestinians that they will not vote with them in September." Canada has been spending this country's diminishing diplomatic currency trying to cobble together a group of countries that will vote against the Palestinian Authority to spare the U.S. and Israel from complete isolation. Notwithstanding Canadian-Israeli-American efforts, the Palestinians expect the backing of more than two-thirds of UN member states -- the number needed to override a U.S. Security Council veto -- with 120 to 140 countries already in favour.

Isolated diplomatically, Harper is also contradicting the wishes of Canadians. A recent GlobeScan-BBC poll of 20,446 people in 19 countries found that 46 per cent of Canadians support the Palestinians statehood bid while only 25 per cent oppose it. Apparently, there are more Canadians in favour of the Palestinians than voted for the Conservatives.

Whatever happens at the UN assembly in the coming days it will not bring about a viable Palestinian state in the near future. A Palestinian diplomatic victory will not end the blockade of Gaza, bring down the separation wall or remove the 500,000 Israeli settlers in the West Bank and East Jerusalem (let alone eliminate the institutional discrimination faced by Palestinian citizens of Israel).

While UN recognition may improve the Palestinians ability to pursue Israeli officials through the International Criminal Court, taking the issue to the UN is a largely symbolic move pursued by a Palestinian Authority widely discredited for collaborating with Israel's occupation. There are questions about whether the statehood bid might weaken Palestinian refugees' (mostly expelled by Zionist forces in 1948) right of return and some have criticized the statehood bid for distracting attention from the growing international boycott, divestment and sanctions campaign against Israel. For its part, the winner of the most recent Palestinian election, Hamas, has rejected the "tactical" UN bid.

Oddly, on the statehood bid the Conservatives find themselves in agreement with Hamas, an organization they've worked feverishly to undermine since they won Palestinian legislative elections in 2006. In fact, on this issue the Conservatives are up against a regime they've helped maintain in power (despite the expiration of President Mahmoud Abbas' mandate in January 2009). The Harper government has spent upwards of $100 million to build a Palestinian security force to protect Abbas from his main rival, Hamas. For the past four years Canada has been heavily invested in training a Palestinian security force designed "to ensure that the P.A. [Palestinian Authority] maintains control of the West Bank against Hamas," as Canadian ambassador to Israel Jon Allen was quoted as saying by the Canadian Jewish News. Trained by Canada, Britain and the U.S. all the Palestinian security recruits are vetted by Israel's internal intelligence agency, the Shin-Bet. ("We don't provide anything to the Palestinians," noted former U.S. mission head General Keith Dayton, "unless it has been thoroughly coordinated with the state of Israel and they agree to it.") Abbas has used this Canadian trained and funded force to pursue his political adversaries in the West Bank.

The Harper government has chosen to line up against domestic opinion, most of the world and their Palestinian allies on recognizing a Palestinian state half the size of the one Canadian diplomats endorsed 60 years ago. When Britain turned its control over Palestine to the UN after World War II, Canadian officials played an important role in the move to divide the territory into Jewish and Palestinian states. Some consider Canada's representative on the United Nations Special Committee on Palestine, Supreme Court Justice Ivan C. Rand, the lead author of the majority report in support of partitioning the area into ethnically segregated states. Additionally, External Affairs Undersecretary Lester Pearson pushed partition in two different UN committees dealing with the issue.

Despite making up only a third of the population, under the UN partition plan Jews received most of the territory. Canadian diplomats pushed a plan that gave the Zionist state 55 per cent of Palestine even though the Jewish population owned less than seven per cent of the land. The Palestinian state was supposed to be on the remaining 45 per cent of the territory (Israel grabbed 24 per cent more land during the 1948 war).

Today, the Palestinian Authority is pursuing a state on 22 per cent of their historic homeland. The least we can ask of our government is to support this move.

Yves Engler is the author of the 2010 book Canada and Israel: building apartheid. His most recent (with Bianca Mugyenyi) is Stop Signs: Cars and Capitalism on the road to Economic, Social and Ecological Decay. For more info click here.

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