Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced a $66 million aid program for the Palestinian Authority on Monday.
Harper made his announcement during a visit to Ramallah, where he met with PA President Mahmoud Abbas.
The Canadian government says the money would “help advance the peace process, promote security and deliver humanitarian assistance.”
Canada has provided more than $650m. in assistance to the Palestinians since the signing of the Oslo Accords in 1993.
Abbas thanked Harper for Canada’s support for the Palestinian economy and building of state institutions.
Abbas said he discussed with Harper ways of “developing bilateral relations in the field of regional issues of common interest.”
During their talk, Abbas said he reaffirmed to the Canadian prime minister his commitment to pursue peace talks with Israel until the end of the nine-month timeline set by the US Administration, which expires in April.
Abbas expressed hope that the negotiations with Israel would lead to a two-state solution “on the basis of international legitimacy and the Arab Peace Initiative.”
“We held important talks with Harper,” Abbas said after the meeting. “We reviewed the latest developments concerning the peace process, and briefed him on our perspective, and ways of boosting the peace process to enable our people to achieve freedom and independence in a sovereign Palestinian state, on the 1967 borders with east Jerusalem as its capital.”
Abbas said the Palestinians want Jerusalem to remain an open city to followers of the three religions. “We want a Palestinian state that would exist next to Israel in security and good relations,” he said.
In an implicit reference to Canada’s vote against UN recognition of a Palestinian state in 2012 – a move that has been condemned by Palestinians – Abbas said, “We respect the will and decisions of peoples and states. Canada is an independent and sovereign state and is entitled to decide what it wants, and recognize anyone it wants. We know that Canada did not vote in favor of us, but we respect its decision and hope that circumstances would change in the future and that our relations would be deeper than they are now.”
When asked about Canada’s role in solving the Palestinian refugee issue, Abbas said, “Canada is one of the countries responsible for the portfolio of the refugees. Perhaps Canada will have a role at a later stage when the issue of the refugees is raised. Then, Canada could play an important role. But now there are no demands from Canada to receive refugees.”
Abbas reiterated his position that there would be no Israeli presence in a future Palestinian state. “This is our right,” he said. “The Jordan valley is entirely Palestinian land that was occupied in 1967. Under no circumstances would we agree to the Jordan Valley being Israeli or leased. We won’t accept this.”
Rejecting criticism of bias in favor of Israel, Harper told reporters that “Canada is a strong supporter of the peace process. Our position is not an Israeli position or a Palestinian position. It is a Canadian position of principle supported by the overwhelming majority of Canadians.”
Earlier, the Palestinian Journalists Syndicate in the West Bank called on its members to boycott Harper’s visit.
The call came after Palestinian reporters and photographers complained that Harper’s bodyguards assaulted a number of journalists during the Canadian prime minister’s visit to the Church of Nativity in Bethlehem.
The syndicate also demanded an “official apology” from Harper.
One of the journalists, Amer Hijazi, claimed that the bodyguards beat him in the chest with a “sharp instrument.”
Another journalist, Musa Shaer, said that the PA leadership had invited him and his colleagues to cover Harper’s visit to Bethlehem. But when they tried to enter the Church of Nativity, Harper’s bodyguards assaulted them, and blocked their way.
Shaer said that the Canadians proposed placing the Palestinian journalists “in a corner that resembles a cage.”