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What Canada could do to show leadership on Palestine

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Free Palestine Protest on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, 2014. Image credit: Tony Webster/Flickr

Canada claims to support a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, yet has resisted a number of initiatives to involve the international community in peacemaking efforts, claiming such initiatives hamper ongoing efforts. As Yves Engler recently reminded us in rabble.ca, Canada sent a letter to the International Criminal Court (ICC) last year indicating Canada felt the court should not get involved as it did not have jurisdiction to look into Israel's alleged crimes.

In April 2020, 42 Canadian civil society organizations were among 183 Palestinian, regional and international human rights organizations that wrote to the ICC asking that Israel be held accountable for possible war crimes. These organizations received no response from the Canadian government. It is curious that for all its stated support for a two-state solution, Canada has refused to recognize the state of Palestine as it has been requested to do. 

As it becomes increasingly clear that a two-state solution is no longer a viable possibility, are there interim measures Canada can work towards or support? Building on ideas that I proposed last year during the Trump "deal of the century" flurry, and more specific to the Canadian context based on my conversations with civil society and government officials, here is what I would suggest. If Canada is serious about promoting justice for Palestine, it needs to break out of the conventional paradigm and seek out a policy based on its own principles and ethics. It must not slavishly follow the U.S. line, which has proven incapable of promoting peace.

The areas of activity to consider would be as follows.

Broad political approach

This approach must insist on respect for international law and agreements, must continue to oppose building and expansion of settlements, but must add a substantive element of forcing Israel to pay a price for blatant violations of international law. Merely denouncing settlements without effective action has proven meaningless, and in fact emboldens Israel to continue violating law as there are no consequences. This is especially true where Canada fails to recognize Palestine as a state and opposes efforts to make it accountable before international law.

Political process

While peace can only be negotiated between the parties themselves, Canada and other interested outside countries can assist the process by urging negotiations with all parties, including Hamas. In the past, Canada began talking with the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and helped bring it into the peace process at a time when Israel and the United States were refusing to have any contact with the group. Canada can initiate talks with Hamas and indicate frankly what it needs to do to arrive at meaningful negotiations. In this way, Canada can make an actual contribution to the peace process.

Calling for an end to the siege of Gaza -- and allowing freedom of people and goods into and out of the Gaza Strip 

The siege, initially undertaken by Israel as a political move to punish Gazans for their support of Hamas, and to prevent continuity between the West Bank and Gaza as a measure to fragment Palestinians and to prevent Palestinian statehood, cannot be a permanent feature of life. With due consideration for the desire to prevent weapons from entering Gaza (a failed exercise in all cases) draconian controls over the civilian life and economy of two million souls in the Gaza Strip cannot be a permanent state of affairs. It must end.

Lifting restrictions on the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement  

As Canada urges Palestinians to use nonviolent methods to struggle for their rights, it needs to encourage, not discourage, their reliance on boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) as a form of activism that is nonviolent in nature. Attempts by Israel and its supporters to combat BDS only encourages those who wish to resort to armed struggle. Furthermore, adopting the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition of antisemitism which conflates anti-Zionism with antisemitism further restricts genuine nonviolent activism on behalf of Palestinians, in addition to restricting Charter rights of free speech.

Human rights advocacy

Canada can advocate for specific actions to improve the human rights situation by demanding the following practices:

  • Ending the policy of house demolitions and other forms of collective punishments.
  • Ending military trials, especially against children, as well as the traumatizing practice of midnight arrests.
  • Ending administrative detention, the holding of individuals in jail indefinitely without charges or trial, and release of all administrative detainees.
  • Calling for removal of all barriers, checkpoints and obstructions within the West Bank, allowing freedom of movement for goods and persons. These restrictions currently hamper economic development, create daily humiliations and bedevilment, and their contribution to Israel's security is negligible, while their impact on the lives of Palestinians and their contribution to increasing hatred and enmity is enormous.
  • Demanding that the same laws and procedures apply to Jews and non-Jews in the occupied territories as well as in Israel. Canada opposes apartheid and discrimination on principle, and it must make that position clear to Israel.

All of the above actions can be undertaken by Canada as a friend of Israel, fully cognizant and sympathetic to its security needs, but requiring the amelioration of the harshness of the occupation upon Palestinians. Whatever justification was given in the past for these actions, after half a century of occupation, there is no justification for their continuation.

All of these measures can be championed by Canada without prejudicing the eventual outcome of peace between Israel and Palestine, and without endangering Israeli security.  Canada can make its position known to Israel on each of these issues, and can utilize diplomatic methods to push for them without endangering its good relations. 

Jonathan Kuttab is a leading human rights lawyer, founder of Al-Haq, and a partner with Kuttab, Khoury, and Hanna Law Firm in East Jerusalem. In Canada, he is founder and board member of Just Peace Advocates. Jonathan's book Beyond the Two State Solution is available here. You can join Jonathan Kuttab in a conversation with Sabri Jiryis on The Palestinian people's future within the Ongoing Zionist Settler-colonial and Apartheid Project here.

Image credit: Tony Webster/Flickr

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