Canada has yet to be asked to absorb Palestinian refugees as part of a comprehensive peace settlement in the Middle East, Prime Minister Stephen Harper is quoted as saying after meeting Palestinian leaders in Ramallah on Monday.
Earlier Monday, Israel Radio reported that Palestinian sources expected Harper to give assurances to the Ramallah government that Canada officially pledges to absorb refugees from neighboring Arab countries as part of a final status peace settlement with Israel.Citing a report in the Arab-language daily Al-Quds Al-Arabi, Israel Radio quotes Palestinian sources as saying that Harper is likely to state these assurances during his meeting on Monday with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.
After meeting Harper, Abbas confirmed that no discussions have taken place with Ottawa regarding the relocation of refugees, though he did add that Canada "may play a role" in the issue if and when it is solved.
Numerous Arab media outlets have reported in recent days that US Secretary of State John Kerry has proposed that Palestinian refugees be relocated to either Canada or Australia in the event that an agreement is reached between Israel and the PA.The right of return of refugees who either fled or were displaced during the 1948 War of Independence is considered one of the more sensitive issues dividing the parties in the Middle East dispute.
With the ceremonial trappings generally reserved for kings and presidents, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu warmly greeted his Canadian counterpart in Jerusalem on Sunday, praising him for his "courage, clarity and convictions."
"You are a great friend of Israel and the Jewish people," Netanyahu said at an unusual welcoming ceremony held at the Prime Minister's office. "I am not just saying that, I mean it deeply from the bottom of my heart, and I am speaking for all of the people of Israel."
One diplomatic official said that the ceremony, which included an honor guard, trumpets blaring, and a long receiving line, was unusual for anyone but heads of state, and was meant to underline Israel's appreciation to Harper and Canada.Netanyahu made those sentiments clear."This world is often cynical and hypocritical, and you have shown great moral leadership when it comes to fighting terrorism," he said. "You know that there cannot be any politically correct double talk, but only unequivocal condemnation and united international actions."
He also praised Harper for his unabashed opposition to anti-Semitism, and for "unflinchingly" standing on the "right side of history" when in comes to Iran's "repeated calls fro Israel's annihilation, and its unrelenting development of nuclear weapons."
Harper is scheduled to address the Knesset Monday a 6:00 pm, the first Canadian prime minister ever to do so. This is his first ever visit to Israel, and the first by a sitting Canadian prime minister in 14 years.
In addition to visiting the Palestinian Authority on Monday, Harper will also – after he leaves Israel Wednesday afternoon – travel to Jordan for meetings there as part of what his office is billing as Harper's "first trip to the Middle East."
Harper has been in office since 2006.