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Why Canada won’t copy U.K. vote on Palestinian statehood

Written by  iPolitics.ca Thursday, 16 October 2014 13:56
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In a symbolic vote, Britain's House of Commons voted in favour of recognizing a Palestinian State on Monday, Oct. 13.
In a symbolic vote, Britain's House of Commons voted in favour of recognizing a Palestinian State on Monday, Oct. 13. Photo Credit: Jewish Exponent

by Michelle Zilio (@MichelleZilio) in Ottawa

Days after British lawmakers passed a symbolic motion recognizing Palestine as a state alongside Israel, it doesn’t look like Canada’s Parliament will consider doing the same anytime soon.

The U.K. vote Monday followed a motion put forward by the opposition Labour Party. The motion, amended to say a Palestinian state would only be recognized once peace negotiations have successfully concluded, passed 274 to 12.

Although fewer than half of MPs took part in the vote — Prime Minister David Cameron and his cabinet abstained — and the vote will not alter the government’s stance on the issue, experts say it is still significant as a reflection of shifting public opinion following the war in Gaza.

It certainly provides a stark contrast to the political debate on the issue in Canada.

“The thing that struck me in the past couple of days is that I don’t see a similar debate in the Parliament of Canada,” said Canada’s former ambassador to Israel, Norman Spector, in an interview with iPolitics.

And don’t expect a debate or vote to happen in Canada in the near future, says Spector.

“I don’t expect either of the two main opposition parties to move this kind of resolution or force this kind of debate in the House of Commons.”

“I think it (the U.K. Parliament vote) sends a signal about evolving opinion on the issue of Palestinian statehood but I don’t see it having an impact on Canadian policy,”

When asked whether they would consider a similar motion to recognize a Palestinian state in the House of Commons, neither the NDP or the Liberals jumped at the idea.

The NDP, which supported a Palestinian bid for statehood at the UN in 2012, did not indicate whether it would consider tabling a motion. Rather, the party’s foreign affairs critic, Paul Dewar, said the government should remain focused on bringing both sides back to the table for a negotiated two-state solution. He also used the opportunity to criticize the Conservative government’s silence following the vote in the U.K. Monday.

“It’s a sad sign of how disconnected Conservatives are from the goal of a negotiated two-state solution when we see the minister of foreign affairs refuse to even reiterate Canada’s longstanding position in support of the creation of a Palestinian state as part of a two-state solution,” said Dewar in an email.

Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird did not release any official reaction to the Monday’s vote. In response to an email request from iPolitics, his spokesperson, Adam Hodge, said, “Palestinian statehood can only be achieved through negotiations between the two parties.”

“We are committed to a comprehensive, just and lasting peace in the Middle East whereby two states live side-by-side in peace and security,” said Hodge. “Canada again urges the parties to resume direct peace talks, without delay or preconditions.”

In an email statement, Liberal foreign affairs critic Marc Garneau said “symbolic moves by either principal — or by third-party actors — are not useful in advancing the agenda for direct negotiations.” He said the Liberal Party’s longstanding position has been that the only way forward is through direct negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Territories.

“Liberals would however support a conversation on how best to — and how Canada can best — move the actors back to the table in the interests of an enduring peace.”

Spector noted the difference between the Israel-Palestinian Territories stance in Canada and the U.K. For instance, while Canada voted in favour of a “two states for two peoples” solution at the UN in 1947, the U.K. did not. In that sense, he says, the British government is trying to “catch up.” He also noted the differences between the two countries’ media coverage of the issue, with British media tending to be more “pro-Palestinian” and Canadian media “much more towards the centre.”

However, recent events may be even more telling of the NDP and Liberals’ lack of interest in a vote recognizing a Palestinian state, says Spector. On the war in Gaza in July and August, the Conservatives, predictably, stood by Israel, Spector said, and the Liberals and NDP were noticeably “cautious” in their reaction to the fighting. Both parties expressed support for Israel’s right to defend itself and were accused of falling in line with the Harper government’s stance on the issue. Based on the opposition reaction to the recent conflict, Spector says it’s highly unlikely either party will table a motion to recognize Palestine as a state.

When asked whether they would consider a similar motion to recognize a Palestinian state in the House of Commons, neither the NDP or the Liberals jumped at the idea.

Tim Martin, a former Canadian representative to the Palestinian Authority, agrees with Spector. In an interview with iPolitics, he said he doesn’t see any indication that the NDP or Liberals would table a motion for a similar vote. While he thinks the vote in the U.K. is “significant,” he doubts it will have any impact on Canada.

“I think it (the U.K. Parliament vote) sends a signal about evolving opinion on the issue of Palestinian statehood but I don’t see it having an impact on Canadian policy,” said Martin.

But given the stalled peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Territories, Martin said he understands why the Labour party felt the need to table the motion.

“Without fruitful looking negotiations on the horizon, I don’t think it’s unreasonable to think about recognition of a Palestinian state and working to help the Palestinians and the Israelis secure the practical attributes that would lead to a functioning two-state approach.”

Whether Canada’s Parliament actually votes to recognize a Palestinian state, Martin said it’s important for the government to make every effort to advance peace negotiations now.

“It’s important to recognize that the successful peace negotiations are feasible between Israel and the Palestinians,” said Martin. “It’s important for us to keep this in mind and keep encouraging peace in the Middle East and not give up on it.”

Re-published with permission.

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