Canada's Mideast policy should be based on international law


Aug. 22, 2006. 01:00 AM




In an article in the weekend Saturday Star, former justice minister Irwin Cotler challenged the idea that Canada should not take sides in order to be "even-handed" in international conflicts, particularly the Middle East. Cotler argued that the "cornerstone of Canadian foreign policy in the Middle East is respect for the security, well-being and legitimacy of Israel." Arab Canadians beg to disagree, Ehab Lotayef writes.

Some people may want to understand "even-handedness" as standing idle and not taking a position, as being passive. Not us. We understand it as taking sides but basing our decision on justice and international law, not on the strength of supporting lobbies.

This brings us directly to the "principle" listed by former justice minister Irwin Cotler in his weekend article in the Saturday Star. Why should the well-being of Israel be rated higher than the well-being of any other nation or state in the world? What kind of racism or favouritism would that be and why would Canada be obliged to base its foreign policy in the Middle East on it?

If we follow the UN resolutions on the Middle East from 1947 to the present (not pick and choose from them like Cotler did, naming some resolutions and ignoring others, or choosing parts of one resolution and ignoring the rest of it) we will find that no country stands in violation of so many UN resolutions as Israel.

UN resolution 194 calls for the right of return of Palestinian refugees. Not one refugee has been allowed to return since 1948. UN resolution 242 calls for Israeli withdrawal from the lands it occupied in the 1967 war; Cotler chooses to write only that this resolution calls for the right of all states in the Middle East to exist within secure and recognized boundaries free from any threats or acts of force.

Not only does Israel still occupy Gaza, the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and the Golan Heights, it has also illegally annexed East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights, ignoring international law and the UN.

Cotler also mentions the two-state solution while ignoring the fact that Israel continuously destroys any possibility of the existence of a Palestinian state by its actions day in and day out.

Settlement expansions in the West Bank coupled with declarations by politicians across the Israeli political spectrum that some/most/all of those settlements and the "occupied" lands on which they stand will never be given away show clearly that Israel will not allow a Palestinian state to ever exist.

Add to this the separation wall that is cutting through the West Bank, annexing huge chunks of it, and any objective observer can see who does not, and will not, allow a two-state solution.

When the UN General Assembly voted overwhelmingly to demand Israel comply with the International Court of Justice ruling against Israel's wall, Canada abstained. The justice minister at the time was Cotler, who later challenged suggestions by UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Canadian Louise Arbour, that Israel may have broken international law and committed war crimes by targeting civilians in Lebanon.

Israel's actions cannot and should not be forgotten nor can their effect in creating and continuing the turmoil in the Middle East be ignored.

If Canada wants peace in the Middle East we have to base this peace on justice and respect for international law. The killing of Lebanese civilians and the destruction of Lebanon's infrastructure — a replica of what happened in Gaza in the days preceding the Israeli-Lebanese war — is a war crime that should not escape justice.

Hezbollah, which is considered a terrorist organization in Canada (a decision some Canadians want revisited and the vast majority of countries, including NATO members, do not concur with), did not even come close to the shocking ratio of civilian-to-combatant casualties Israel inflicted on the Lebanese population.

Last, but not least, the targeted assassinations and the kidnappings from both Lebanon and the Palestinian territories are atrocities that Cotler appears to selectively forget when making a case for Israel.

These kidnappings are the reasons for the latest conflict. Both Hamas and Hezbollah captured Israeli soldiers to negotiate the freedom of their prisoners kidnapped and held by Israel.

We do not want a passive, meaningless Canadian foreign policy regarding the Middle East. At the same time we condemn a Canadian position biased toward Israel and against Arabs, or even one biased in favour of Arabs.

We want a Canadian foreign policy that stands firmly in support of international law and the right of all people for self-determination and justice.

Ehab Lotayef is vice-president of communications, Parole Arabe, a grassroots organization for Arab Canadians based in Montreal. This article was co-written by Ali Mallah, vice-president of CUPE-Toronto District; Khaled Mouammar, president of the Canadian Arab Federation, and Ismail Zayid, president of the Canada Palestine Association.