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Canada fighting Israel at UN

Implication that Jerusalem is entirely Palestinian: Canadian envoys support 10 of 12 draft resolutions that place onus on Jewish state

by Steven Edwards UNITED NATIONS - Canada is backing new United Nations measures opposed by Israel, despite a recent backlash among Canadian Jews that prompted Jean Chrétien to write a letter of "regret" over Ottawa's support for an earlier UN resolution.

Under the new Canadian-approved resolutions heading for the General Assembly, the UN will tell Israel to "cease all practices and actions that violate the human rights of the Palestinian people," and will remind Israel of the Fourth Geneva Convention, which requires an occupying power to guarantee the protection of civilians in areas it controls.

This is meant to drive home the UN's view that Israel is occupying the West Bank and Gaza, even though their status remains a matter to be negotiated as part of a hoped-for lasting peace.

Canada supports 10 out of 12 resolutions, which were opposed by Israel and the United States and contain language certain to give offence to many in the Jewish diaspora. The resolutions regard Israeli towns in the Golan Heights as illegal settlements and refer to "Israeli settlements in the occupied Palestinian territory, including Jerusalem", implying that the whole city is Palestinian.

The resolutions supported by Ottawa also "reaffirm that the Palestine refugees are entitled to their property and to income derived from it." Approximately 3.6 million Palestinians are registered as refugees with the United Nations, with 1 million of them living in camps in the Mideast. Another Canadian-approved measure calls for a Palestinian university in the current Israeli capital of "occupied" Jerusalem.

Canadian Jews were outraged last month when Canada used its seat on the UN Security Council to endorse Resolution 1322 condemning Israel's "excessive use of force" against the Palestinians, but barely criticizing Palestinian violence. The backlash was so severe that the Prime Minister wrote a letter to the Jewish community expressing regret that the UN vote had caused them consternation, but he did not withdraw Canada's vote. Liberal party insiders fear Jewish anger over Resolution 1322 could damage them in Monday's federal election. Traditionally, the Liberals have been able to count on the solid support of Jewish Canadians, but the party now worries that the community will punish them at the ballot box.

Canada voted for the latest measures as a member of the Political and Decolonization Committee, which prepared draft resolutions for approval by the UN's 189-member General Assembly. Because any UN member state can vote on the committee, the General Assembly usually rubber-stamps its drafts.

Once accepted, the resolutions would add to the considerable body of UN literature that generally favours the Palestinian cause over the Israeli one.

Even though many historians consider Israel's conflicts with the Arabs over the past 50 years to be predominantly "defensive wars," Palestinians have traditionally been supported by Muslim and developing nations, which form a UN majority bloc.

The committee approved 12 draft resolutions touching on Israeli-Palestinian affairs after considering two UN reports: one from the agency that looks after Palestinians uprooted by the Arab-Israeli conflict; the other from the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People, set up by the General Assembly in 1975.

Canada voted "yes" to 10 of the draft resolutions and abstained from one. The committee adopted the final one by consensus.

The only states to vote against any of the measures were Israel and its closest ally, the United States. Israel opposed 10 measures and abstained from one. The United States opposed eight measures, voted for one and abstained from two.

Criticism of Israel at the UN continued this week as another branch of the world body endorsed the decision by the UN's Commission on Human Rights to launch an inquiry into "breaches of international humanitarian law in the occupied Palestinian territories."

In that vote, which was passed 21-19 with 11 abstentions, Canada opposed endorsement after intense lobbying by the United States to have the measure defeated.

A Canadian diplomat said the decision, which also described some of Israel's actions as "war crimes," was "unbalanced." He added the international community should focus on helping Israel and the Palestinians to end the violence and resume peace negotiations.

Such diplomatic language was not in evidence last month when Canada decided not to join the United States in abstaining from Security Council Resolution 1322.

Irwin Cotler, a Liberal MP from Montreal, considered the resolution to be so "one-sided" he broke ranks with his party and spoke out against it.

Subsequent complaints by the Canadian Jewish Congress and others led the Prime Minister to write to Jewish community leaders saying he regretted Canada's vote had "added to this distress and frustration."

© National Post, 2000

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