From the Toronto Star Editorial Staff
If Prime Minister Stephen Harper wants to rebuke the Israeli government for expanding Jewish settlements in disputed East Jerusalem, as Washington and others have done, why doesn't he just come out and say so in plain language?
Instead, Harper has opted to send politically mixed messages in what appears to be a bid to curry favour with U.S. President Barack Obama's administration without alienating Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's government. Amid the fog, it's hard to know just where the Conservatives stand.
Netanyahu's government infuriated the Obama administration on March 9 by provocatively announcing it plans to build 1,600 more housing units for Jewish settlers in East Jerusalem, despite Obama's express request not to. Worse, the news came as U.S. Vice-President Joe Biden was in Israel, professing America's unshakeable support. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called it "insulting." The White House cancelled a planned visit by Mideast envoy George Mitchell.
So what was Ottawa's reaction? Last Thursday, March 11, Foreign Minister Lawrence Cannon merely voiced tepid "regret" and "concern." No surprise there, given Harper's reflexively pro-Israel stance. However by Tuesday Cannon told a Commons committee, "We feel that this is contrary to international law and therefore condemn it." That sounded more like Washington's angry reaction.
Yet when Harper was questioned in Parliament that same afternoon about a call he put in to Netanyahu, he pointedly declined to reinforce Cannon's tough stance. All he would say was that Canada's "position is well known," and that he hoped peace talks would resume.
To cap it all off, Cannon's office issued a backtracking statement later in the day insisting his condemnation wasn't "an escalation in our diplomatic language," just business as usual.
So there it stands. The United Nations, the European Union, the U.S. and Russia have all condemned the new housing, unequivocally. Even Israeli Labour leader Ehud Barak, who is Netanyahu's coalition partner and defence minister, called the move "unnecessary and damaging." Meanwhile Canada's political leaders bob and weave, lost in a fog of their own making.
I wrote a response that doesn't have a chance of being published. I decided to share it here.
While in Israel Joe Biden was insulted by the announcement of a construction project to build much needed housing. On the very same trip PA President Abbas attended the inauguration of a square named after a terrorist who killed 37 Israelis. While an insult to Israel this move didn't warrant any attention from the US Administration.
I am rather baffled by the Toronto Star editorial staff for condemning Stephen Harper and Lawerence Cannon for not following the American lead in over reacting to this minor announcement.
It is likely that Palestinian negotiators have already agreed it would remain on the Israeli side of any border with a Palestinian State. If it doesn't Israel has proven over and over again they are willing to throw their own citizens out of their homes to make peace. Palestinians would get 1600 brand new housing units.
Obama's Administration created an international incident that caused violence without any diplomatic gain. The little more level headedness by world leaders, exhibited by Harper and Cannon would much more practical for creating a practical peace arangement.