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Harper goes to the UN: Canadian imperialism and Palestine

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This morning the breaking news from the UN is that Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas has submitted his bid for a Palestinian state, but the vote will be delayed to allow for another crack at negotiations between Palestine and Israel.

I've noticed a dominant theme in the debate around this bid for statehood. Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper said that the Palestinian statehood bid could be "counter-productive" to the peace process. President Obama said that it was an ill-advised "shortcut" and should be stalled. John Baird's spokesperson said, "unilateral action is ultimately unhelpful."

In its "Guide to the September Vote on the Admission of Palestine..." the Canadian-Palestinian support network asks the question, "Will this strategy hurt or help the Palestinians in their struggle for equality and basic human rights?" Its report then does a thorough and insightful analysis of the history of the occupation, the facts on the ground and the diplomatic strategies available to the PLO. Other groups still have urged that the Palestinian state would serve first the interests of Israel and second those of a Palestinian Authority that has been complicit in apartheid and illegal occupation, and therefore it should be opposed by Canada.

What's the dominant theme? Well, although we started out by asking how Canada should vote at the UN, the arguments always focus on what Palestinians should and shouldn't do. What would hurt or help Palestinians? What do we think is necessary for peace in the Middle East? In other words we somehow seem to have agreed that it's our job to decide the fates of other peoples. We've gotten wrapped up in this great colonial game -- as a colonized people of the global south engages in trying to make collective political decisions, we sit at a table and talk a lot about how the pieces on the game board should move, as though it should be up to us. Somehow simple questions about Canada's obligations under international norms, laws, and principles of human rights have disappeared. As a result of diverting our focus from some of these simple questions, the Canadian foreign policy apparatus and mainstream media has seemed to justify Stephen Harper's promise to oppose Palestinian statehood today.

Instead of taking it upon ourselves to solve the Palestinian problem, we need to ask if Canada's choice to oppose is in alignment with international law and democratic practice. We need to ask where Canada's intensely intimate relationship with Israel came from, who benefits from it, and whose rights are sacrificed or violated by it. We need to inspect how our politicians are acting on our behalf and with our tax dollars, and how this compares to the behaviour of other members of the international community.

Are we in line with the international community? Canada is one of only half a dozen countries to come down against the Palestinian Authority's statehood bid. In contrast, since 1988 over 100 states have recognized Palestinian statehood as a fact and an inalienable right. Already, refocusing the question should raise doubts about our government's opposition to Palestine -- are Canadians at large really in favor of morally alienating ourselves from the rest of the world by taking an isolating position as the U.S. has done on the Palestine question?

It turns out that no, we are not. A recent Globescan-BBC poll shows that 46 per cent of Canadians support the statehood bid while only 25 per cent oppose it. As the ever-insightful Yves Engler has pointed out, Palestine has more Canadian supporters here than Harper had in the last election.

Next, I think we have to ask ourselves whether we as a nation are going to support the principle of national sovereignty and the right to self-determination. According to my legal education, which I got from Wikipedia.org, "self-determination is the principle in international law that nations have the right to freely choose their sovereignty and international political status with no external compulsion or interference." Now, I'll admit that this is as vague and evasive as any legal principle I've ever encountered in my years of wiki-research. But I think what it's trying to say is that every nation has the right to choose its status with no external interference. According to Democracy Now, a recent poll suggests that the majority of the members of the Palestinian nation in fact support statehood. This poll goes further, though, and shows another astonishing fact -- the majority of Israeli citizens also support Palestinian statehood. Again, new question = more doubt. Who opposes Palestinian statehood? Not Canadians, not Israelis: It's starting to seem like it's pretty much only Stephen Harper and the Conservative Party of Canada.

What if we investigate Canada's relationship with Israel in international affairs? According to Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East (CJPME), Canada has largely shifted its aid to Palestine from humanitarian to military. Although we used to provide food and other forms of aid to hungry and dispossessed Palestinians, we have changed gears, supplying arms and security forces. The Harper government has contributed $100 million to a Palestinian security force for Mahmoud Abbas. In addition, Canada is now one of the primary supporters of the Dayton mission which has become our second largest deployment after Afghanistan.

Does this military aid to Palestinians represent support for the liberation of Palestinians? Relief from their extreme poverty, or the ability to reclaim land from illegal Israeli settlements deep in Palestinian territory?

No. Canadian Ambassador to Israel Jon Allen explains that this aid is needed solely to "ensure the Palestinian authority maintains control over the West Bank against Hamas" in order to "get rid of any apprehensions Israel may have with a Palestinian state next door." Therefore, Canada is spending $100 million of taxpayers' money for the comfort of the Israeli government, while Harper has hired Deloitte (for an undisclosed sum) to consult on how to "trim the fat" of Canadian social welfare spending. All while the people of Palestine exist without a state, under a brutal occupation.

So, whose interests are served by Canada's support for Israel? Not the interests of Canadian or Palestinian citizens, but the interests of the Israel government.

Finally, I said we had to look past the theoretical arguments and discuss whose rights Canada's opposition to Palestinian statehood violates. The state of Israel has been recognized dozens of times by the UN as a severe violator of human rights. It has occupied Palestine illegally since 1967. It has built settlements on that occupied Palestinian land: another breach of international law. The wall separating Palestinian from Israeli communities in the West Bank has been ruled illegal by the International Court of Justice, and Archbishop Desmond Tutu has said that the Israeli occupation of Palestine is worse than South African Apartheid. Therefore, the denial of a Palestinian state is done at the continued expense of the basic, straightforward human rights of Palestinian people.

Isn't it just deeply imbalanced to debate the merits of statehood in a committee while there is an ongoing ethnic cleansing of occupied Palestine?

Stephen Harper thinks that the Palestinian problem should be settled by negotiations, on Israel's terms. Stephen Harper thinks that it's not safe to "give" a state to Palestine. I say Stephen Harper is playing an imperialist's game of Risk with land that belongs to Palestinians: acting in his own calculated interests against the rights of a colonized people.

International law says a state should come first. The majority of Palestinian people say a state should come first. Even the Canadian people say the Palestinian state comes first. Finally, we anticipate that more than two-thirds of the UN's members will say that a state should come first. The right to a state is not maybe, sometimes, or depending on your mood -- it is inalienable. However, when the vote comes up, Canada's delegation to the UN will show us that it disagrees.

Follow Nick Day on Twitter: @nickAday

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