Canada's embassy belongs in Jerusalem

Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s government has unquestionably become the Jewish state’s most steadfast and outspoken ally.

CANADA’S MINISTER of Foreign Affairs John Baird speaking in Egypt on January 15 (photo credit: REUTERS)
CANADA’S MINISTER of Foreign Affairs John Baird speaking in Egypt on January 15
(photo credit: REUTERS)
On Sunday, Canadian Foreign Minister John Baird received a stately welcome in Jerusalem, where he held a press conference with his Israeli counterpart before scheduled meetings with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Reuven Rivlin.
Later in Ramallah, the contrast could not have been starker, when some one hundred protesters attacked Baird’s convoy with eggs and shoes. All the while, heavily armed Palestinian forces, whose salaries are partially financed by Canadian taxpayer dollars, made no effort to protect Ottawa’s top diplomat.
This is what some $650 million in aid to the Palestinians over two decades has bought the people of Canada.
The ostensible reason for the violent demonstration is the Canadian administration’s support for Israel. Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s government has unquestionably become the Jewish state’s most steadfast and outspoken ally, having most recently forcefully denounced both the Palestinians’ statehood initiative at the UN Security Council and any subsequent accession to the International Criminal Court. In 2012, Canada was among the few countries that voted against the Palestinian bid to become a non-member state at the United Nations General Assembly.
As such, top PLO official Saeb Erekat fanned the flames prior to Baird’s visit, demanding an apology for the foreign minister’s decision to, of all things, hold meetings with Israeli officials in east Jerusalem last year.
“We regret the Canadian government’s decision to stand on the wrong side of history by blindly supporting the Israeli occupation and its apartheid policies,” Erekat said in a statement, oblivious to the irony that the “affront” in question saw Baird visit the Israeli Justice Ministry, headed by none other than lead peace negotiator Tzipi Livni, a known proponent of dividing Jerusalem.
Whether Erekat’s words provoked the ensuing rioting cannot be determined; it is, however, undeniable that Baird should not have been in Ramallah in the first place.
He had no chance of persuading the Palestinians to stop waging their diplomatic war against Israel, surely the main point of the visit, as evidenced by the previous, humiliating failure of the US to do so.
Baird should have conveyed his displeasure by forgoing the trip altogether but, given the course of events, the time has come for more than silent protest.
Prior to meeting with Baird, Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman announced that Israel would begin lobbying ICC member-states, including Canada, to cut funding for the tribunal. Ottawa should accede to the request, which would parallel Washington’s decision to temporarily suspend contributions to UNESCO after it accepted “Palestine” as a member in 2011.
Netanyahu aptly described the ICC’s launch of a preliminary war crimes investigation as “absurd.” He debunked the lead prosecutor’s definitive declaration of “Palestine” as a state and pointed out the sheer insanity of charges being levied against the Middle East’s lone democracy by the Hamas terror organization and its unity partner, Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah party.
It would likewise not be unreasonable for Canada to halt direct aid to the Palestinians. I previously described in these pages the gross waste such funding constitutes, further arguing that Ramallah has never upheld its end of the Oslo bargain and therefore should not be privy to any financial largesse. But perhaps it is time to change tack.
Instead of penalizing the Palestinians, Ottawa should instead move to reward Israel for its commitment to peace, as evidenced by the many concessions it continues to make despite receiving only unrelenting terrorism in return.
Simply put, Canada should move its embassy to Jerusalem.
While controversial, the embassy could be relocated comfortably within the 1947 lines, so as to limit the expected fallout and not be perceived as “prejudging” the anyways non-existent peace negotiations. In reality, such a move would simply be a statement of the obvious; namely that Jerusalem, whatever its future borders, will always remain the capital of Israel.
It would nevertheless be a powerful demonstration of support for democracy over terrorism, a monumental gesture by a resolute ally and a clear message to the Palestinians they will be held accountable for their actions.
There is also precedent for the move.
In The Domestic Battleground: Canada and the Arab-Israeli Conflict, David Taras and David H. Goldberg describe thenprime ministerial candidate Joe Clark’s election promise to move the Canadian embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
As leader of Canada’s Progressive Conservative party, on April 25, 1979, he proclaimed, “Next year in Jerusalem is a Jewish prayer which we intend to make a Canadian reality.”
After being voted into office, Clark reaffirmed the intention in his first official press conference, only to backtrack three weeks later by deferring the move by one year. Ultimately, on October 29, 1979, he announced no action would be taken “until the status of Jerusalem is clarified within a comprehensive agreement between Israel and her Arab neighbors.”
Electoral concerns aside, Clark pushed the initiative as a way of reinforcing peace between Egypt and Israel, a position echoed by none other than former US president Jimmy Carter, a signatory to the accord, during his campaign in 1976.
According to Taras and Goldberg, “Clark and his senior advisers [also] considered the transfer of the embassy to be a foreign policy initiative justifiable on historic, moral and especially legal grounds; they were convinced of the justice of the case for moving the embassy.”
But it was not to be.
First, the terrorist group known as the Palestine Liberation Organization denounced the prospect as “an act of aggression,” whereas the Canada-Arab Federation called it “a declaration of war on 900 million Muslims.” Many Arab nations threatened to boycott Canadian goods and the dollar dipped sharply when the Arab Monetary Fund said it would no longer make deposits in Canadian banks.
Clark’s government was simultaneously scoured in the press.
While the Harper administration could expect the same from a decisively anti-Israel media, times have changed.
No longer fresh in people’s minds is the 1973 Arab oil embargo that crippled the North American economy. In fact, the Arab world today is in utter turmoil, divided along sectarian lines, a far cry from the once demonstrated unity.
Moreover, Canada has anyways since transformed itself into a net-energy exporter; its economy, which was largely insulated from the recent global financial crisis, has become more diverse with the ascent of China and other developing nations. It is thus less dependent on Arab markets and could withstand the resultant shocks, assuming sanctions were implemented at all.
While some backlash should be expected, overall, the tangible negative consequences would likely be minimal, whereas the positive effects would be significant.
As the Palestinians turn justice on its head by pursuing Israel for war crimes at the ICC, moving the Canadian embassy to Jerusalem would reaffirm the West’s immutable moral code, setting an example that would undoubtedly be followed by other countries.
It would mark a major shift in a diplomatic paradigm that for two decades has given the Palestinians carte blanche to do as they please without fear of consequences; it would be a first step in countering the delegitimization campaign targeting Israel, which is part and parcel of the renewed tide of anti-Semitism sweeping the globe.
In the wake of recent terrorist attacks worldwide, including two in Canada last October, it would send a clear message that the ideology shared by the likes of Hamas and Hezbollah, which seeks the “liberation” of Jerusalem and the rest of Israel, will not be countenanced; it would create the beginnings of a united front against a common, and increasingly emboldened, enemy.
Moving the embassy to Jerusalem would cement the legacy of a Canadian government that understands all of this profoundly and which fully appreciates the nature of the growing threats against the Western world and Israel’s unique role as a primary line of defense in an intensifying battle. Mr. Harper, the time has therefore come to right a historical wrong, thereby bringing the physical into synch with the conceptual realities of both contemporary and future geopolitics.
The writer is a correspondent for i24news.