Canada’s official position on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is the support of the creation of a Palestinian state living side-by-side in peace and security with Israel: usually referred to as the two-state solution. That solution, however, is increasingly in jeopardy. Both sides are at fault. In this tense situation, Canadian voices has been silent on the situation so far for the most part. More forthright leadership from Canada could be a key to resolving escalating tension in the area.
Israel’s government is at fault for continuing to build settlements in the West Bank and for claiming that it will never take them down. Canada considers the settlements to be a violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention.
Gaza and the West Bank constitute only 22% of the land of Israel/Palestine (not including the Golan Heights). By continuing to build Israeli settlements within that 22%, Israel is indicating that it is not interested in seeing a Palestinian state created on that land.
While the presence of Israel’s army in the West Bank may be necessary for the security of Israelis, Israel has no valid justification for the continued expansion of settlements. The settlements in fact reduce security by placing Israeli citizens closer to potential sources of terrorist attacks. The settlements therefore require more resources from Israel in order to ensure their security.
The Palestinian leadership too is at fault. Gaza’s leadership, which is controlled by Hamas that Canada recognizes as a terrorist organization, is at fault for allowing and often even engaging in terrorist attacks on Israel. The West Bank leadership, which is the Palestinian Authority headed by President Mahmood Abbas, is at fault for indirectly encouraging terrorism by calling terrorists “martyrs” and paying jailed terrorists and the families of a dead terrorists; this behaviour that has been acknowledged by Abbas and has been denounced by the United States government.
By continuing terrorist attacks against Israel, the Palestinians ensure that Israelis fear the creation of a Palestinian state. Israelis observe that after Israel withdrew both its settlements and its soldiers from Gaza in 2005, Gaza was taken over by Hamas and has been the source of thousands of rocket attacks on Israel since then. In 2018 alone, one thousand rockets were fired from Gaza into Israel. Israelis do not wish to see the same scenario repeated in the West Bank, which is far closer to Israel’s two largest cities, Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, which would therefore be an even bigger security threat to Israel.
Canadian Leadership Needed
Israel and the Palestinians are in a deadlock situation, where Israel demands an end to Palestinian terrorism, while the Palestinians demand an end to the Israeli occupation. Neither side is moving towards a solution.
Canada could play a positive role in support of a two-state solution by making a dual announcement. One of these would be recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, including moving Canada’s embassy to West Jerusalem. The second would be recognition of the Palestinian state, including full diplomatic relations between that state and Canada.
Although Jerusalem is still disputed territory, there is no doubt that West Jerusalem, which is within the 1948 armistice lines, would become part of Israel. Therefore, with such an announcement, Canada would not be changing its position on the two-state solution. It would rather be sending the Palestinians a message about the importance of Jerusalem to the Jewish people, and therefore to Israel.
As of July 31, 2019, 140 of the world’s 193 states have recognized Palestine. If Canada recognized the Palestinian state today, Canada would become the largest Western democracy to do so. Doing so would be sending Israel the message that the creation of a Palestinian state is inevitable.
Terrorist violence against Israel is not acceptable, and Israel’s occupation of the West Bank is not acceptable either. Canada’s dual announcement on Jerusalem and Palestine would send a clear message to both sides that they must put the past behind and work out their differences for the sake of both peoples.