By RON CSILLAG
No major political party in Canada is supporting Israel’s pledge to unilaterally annex territories in the West Bank.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told a Likud Party meeting on May 25 that his July 1 deadline for starting the process of absorbing some West Bank lands into Israel proper will not change. The controversial policy has provoked an outburst of condemnation, including from several of Israel’s allies.
While Canada’s lack of enthusiasm for such a move spans the political spectrum, some Jewish organizations in the country are taking opposing views.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau telephoned both Netanyahu and “alternate” Prime Minister Benny Gantz on May 18 in a call described as customary following the creation of a new government. Trudeau may have used forceful language in those calls but nowhere in his subsequent statement is the word “annexation” mentioned or unilateralism questioned.
Trudeau congratulated Netanyahu and Gantz on the formation of Israel’s new government.
“Canada and Israel share a long history as close friends, as well as partners in international organizations,” statement from the Prime Minister’s Office said. “As the decades have passed, we have remained united by our shared democratic values and close people-to-people ties. Both of our countries are also benefitting from the modernized Canada-Israel Free Trade Agreement, which is creating even more connections between people and businesses in Canada and Israel.”
Trudeau said he looks forward to both countries working together to combat COVID, but added, perhaps vaguely hinting at the coming annexation: “In these times of uncertainty, our commitment to international law and the rules-based international order is more important than ever.”
The annexation plan has no traction among Conservatives.
Tory foreign affairs critic Leona Alleslev told CBC News that “Conservatives continue to believe in the two-state solution, as part of a negotiated settlement to this conflict, as well as the right of Israel to defend itself and secure its borders.”
The CJR reached out to Conservative leadership frontrunners Peter MacKay and Erin O’Toole. Only O’Toole replied, saying, “we don’t support any unilateral action whether it involves the Palestinians using the [International Criminal Court] against Israel, or the Israelis annexing disputed territory. Canada supports and remains committed to a negotiated two-state solution to the conflict.”
Canada must assert “strong opposition to any plan to annex lands occupied by Israel since the 1967 Arab-Israeli War,” New Democrat foreign affairs critic Jack Harris said in a statement.
Despite Canada’s official position on a two-state solution, the Liberal government “has done little to advance the cause,” Harris said. “Now that the incoming government of Israel has committed to a plan to annex lands in the occupied territories, Canada must speak out and condemn such action. It would be a clear violation of international law and the Geneva Convention to which Canada is Party. It would also go contrary to numerous United Nations Resolutions passed by an overwhelming number of countries.”
Harris noted that other nations, including the U.K., Norway, Ireland and France, have said that such annexation would be a clear violation of international law.
Canada “must be on the side of right in this issue,” he added. “If we hope to play a meaningful leadership role in the modern world, we must stand with the nations of the world to uphold international law.”
If annexation proceeds according to Israel’s plan, it will represent “one of the single most extreme unilateral moves made by Israel in recent decades in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict,” said Paul Manly, the Green Party critic on foreign affairs.
Manley said the annexation of West Bank lands in the midst of the global COVID crisis would not only violate United Nations resolutions, but “end all hopes for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”
Former Green Party leader Elizabeth May, who serves on the executive of the Canada-Palestinian Parliamentary Friendship Group, said she finds it “unacceptable that Israel would attempt to use COVID-19 as cover for further compromising the long-term security of the region.”
In a letter to Foreign Affairs Minister François-Philippe Champagne, JSpace Canada, the progressive Jewish group, urged Ottawa to reject Israel’s annexation plans.
Canada should express to Israel that unilateral annexation “will damage its relationship with allies and the security of the region,” said JSpace Canada president Karen Mock.
Unilateral annexation “of occupied territory appears to be in direct contradiction to the principles and values clearly articulated in Israel’s own Proclamation of Independence, and would be an affront to international efforts to encourage the two sides to negotiate,” JSpace wrote in the letter.
About the only support for annexation came from Herut Canada, a robustly pro-Israel group resurrected last year. It “unequivocally supports exercising the Jewish people’s ancient, historical, and legal sovereign rights in the Judean and Samarian territory,” Lauren Isaacs, the group’s director, told the CJR.
The area in question “has always been Jewish land, both biblically and legally, and we see the annexation as the ultimate expression of liberation. This is about the right to Jewish sovereignty in Jewish land and we support it,” Isaacs said.
Officially, Canada considers the West Bank to be occupied territories, a position consistent with the international community.
“As such, unilateral annexation is deemed a violation of international law,” according to Oded Haklai, a political scientist at Queen’s University.
More significantly, Haklai told the CJR, unilateral annexation of disputed territory “reduces the prospects of an agreed-upon two-state solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, which the Canadian government, along with most of the world, view as the most appropriate solution.”
As well, annexation “could undermine the long and hard fought-for peace already achieved with Jordan. Canada has always insisted that the status of the territories has to be determined through diplomacy rather than unilateral action.”