January/February 2001
Western Wall

Canada Offers to Resettle Palestinian Refugees

January 11, 2001 - Associated Press

TORONTO - Canada went public Wednesday with an offer to accept Palestinian refugees as part of a negotiated Middle East peace plan. Jennifer Sloan, director of communications for Foreign Affairs Minister John Manley, said Canada made the offer in a series of recent telephone calls involving Manley, Israel, the Palestinian Authority and the United States. She called it a reaffirmation of previously stated Canadian government policy to contribute in any way possible to any peace treaty negotiated in the Middle East.

"We reconfirmed that Canada would play its part in ensuring a successful peace agreement," Sloan said Wednesday. The Canadian offer, first reported in a front-page story Wednesday in The Toronto Star newspaper, goes against the long-held Palestinian demand for the right to return to their homes or ancestral homeland in what is now Israel. It is one of the most contentious issues of the Middle East conflict, with almost 4 million Palestinian refugees living in the West Bank and Gaza, Lebanon, Syria and Jordan.

The official policy of Lebanon, Syria and Jordan demands the right of Palestinians to return to their homeland. Israel has flatly rejected this possibility, saying that an influx of Palestinian refugees would destabilize the country by upsetting the balance between Jews and Arabs. Resettling refugees in Europe, Canada and elsewhere was believed to be part of the protracted peace negotiations in the past two years, and was included in the recent plan proposed by outgoing U.S. President Bill Clinton.

The Foreign Affairs department confirmed the accuracy of the quotes attributed to Manley by The Star. In the interview, Manley said the numbers of refugees that Canada would be willing to accept had yet to be discussed. "We are prepared to receive refugees; we are prepared to contribute to an international fund to assist with resettlement in support of a peace agreement," Manley said, adding that other countries were also expected to accept Palestinian refugees. "We have just assumed that we would be one of several countries involved, Sloan said in a telephone interview. "We haven't had discussions with anyone."

In addition to telephone calls to and from Manley, Prime Minister Jean Chretien called Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat on Christmas Day to talk about the peace process, Chretien's office confirmed Tuesday. Manley said, "Chretien made the call after it appeared that there were the fundamentals for an agreement there, both to say that we would be willing to play our role on the refugee resettlement issues as well as to encourage them to try to find a way to strike an agreement."

Manley was unwilling to offer an evaluation of the Clinton peace plan, but said it involved both sides making concessions. "What's implicit is a trade-off between that dream [of right of return] and greater control over holy sites and the introduction of an international security force to replace the Israeli army [in the occupied territories]," Manley told The Star. "Canada would be willing to contribute troops to an international force created to oversee implementation of a peace accord," Manley said. "All of these things are meant to balance different concerns that are there on the table," he said. "The question will be whether they can arrive at something that enough people on both sides are going to say, 'It's probably the best we're going to do, and it saves lives, so let's end this'".

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