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The United Nations and Israel

UN Votes Contradict Rhetoric from Ottawa

Resolution calling Israeli jurisdiction in Jerusalem 'illegal' consistently backed

by Steven Edwards - March 7, 2002

Canadian Jewish groups that monitor Canada's voting record on Israel at the United Nations say the Liberal government's support for the Jewish state has long been patchy.

Official policy positions appearing to back Israel often are not reflected in the way Ottawa orders its delegates to vote during numerous UN debates on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, they say.

Friction reached a crisis level in October, 2000, when Canada used its seat on the UN Security Council, the organization's most important executive body, to endorse a resolution that condemned Israel's "excessive use of force" against the Palestinians, but barely mentioned Palestinian violence.

One of the Liberal Party's own MPs -- Irwin Cotler -- was outraged by the vote.

"This resolution is one-sided, prejudicial to the state of Israel and misinformed," Mr. Cotler, a human rights lawyer who represents the Montreal riding of Mount Royal, said at the time.

With a federal election approaching, Jean ChrŽtien, the Prime Minister, personally wrote to Canadian Jewish leaders expressing "regret" for the "distress and frustration" the resolution had caused.

"One UN vote cannot define or redefine the deep and longstanding friendship that exists between Canada and Israel," he said.

But almost simultaneously, Canadian delegates at the UN were following Ottawa directives to quietly approve a batch of annually recurring measures slamming Israel.

The measures were headed for the General Assembly, where a majority of developing and Muslim nations traditionally vote against the Jewish state.

After the National Post detailed the delegates' actions, the Liberal Party moved quickly to defuse Jewish anger by issuing a statement downplaying the resolutions as "technical and procedural."

The statement added: "Canada will not support unbalanced resolutions and will vote to encourage the peace process and protect the integrity of the United Nations."

At the General Assembly vote two months later, the resolutions passed, with Canada backing or abstaining from almost all of them, leaving the United States and Israel isolated in their opposition.

"The [Jewish] community certainly expected more from the government's ... pre-election pledges of even-handedness in the Middle East, as well as 'understanding' for Israel's position," wrote Ruth Klein in The Jewish Tribune, Canada's largest Jewish newspaper.

The United Nations is an important forum for the Palestinians, who argue the accumulation of anti-Israel resolutions gives them the moral high ground in their bid for a state. Conversely, the Israelis consider the world body virtual hostile territory as they defend themselves from one condemnation after another.

At his first and so far only visit to the United Nations since becoming Foreign Minister in January, Bill Graham insisted Canada had not traditionally voted with the majority to the detriment of Israel.

"I would argue [against the view] that Canada has always been with the pack that leaves the United States and Israel isolated," he said.

"What we try and do is find a way to make sure that our votes on specific resolutions are in a way that will help the peace process."

Canada's record suggests otherwise, with votes often in contradiction to what appears to have been said in Ottawa.

One recurring resolution that Canada has consistently supported states Israeli jurisdiction in Jerusalem is "illegal and therefore null and void."

Yet the official Canadian position on the Israeli capital represents the "status of Jerusalem can be resolved only as part of a general settlement of the Arab-Israeli dispute."

In December, Jewish groups were shocked that Canada approved a new measure slipped into one of the recurring resolutions considered by the assembly.

It protested against Israeli searches of UN trucks laden with aid for Palestinians.

Only the United States supported Israel in rejecting the censure, which called on the Jewish state to "cease obstructing" the trucks.

Israel said the searches were not only necessary to prevent terrorist attacks, but permitted by agreement.

"This resolution shows a total disregard for Israel's vulnerability in the face of the unremitting terrorist attacks against it," Rochelle Wilner, national president of B'nai Brith Canada, said at the time.

The most recent votes were held just after terrorist bombings in Jerusalem and Haifa claimed 25 Israeli lives. Reacting to the violence, Canada withdrew its traditional support for a UN recipe for peace that Israel and the United States had always opposed, saying it was one-sided.

"The text does not sufficiently recognize the violence inflicted on both sides," said Michel Duval, Canada's deputy ambassador to the United Nations.

Fourteen European countries and four others joined Canada in abstaining from the resolution, which the United States and Israel again opposed.

The revised vote drew guarded praise from Jewish groups, who thought Canada should have taken a stronger stand and opposed the measure outright.

The change was criticized by Muslim groups.

"The resolution simply reconfirms the right of Palestinians to live free from occupation," said Mazen Chouaib, executive director of the National Council on Canada-Arab Relations.

The resolution was typical of many approved by the assembly in characterizing Israel's presence in the West Bank and Gaza as an occupation, even though the territories' future remains a matter to be negotiated in the hope of achieving a lasting peace.

December's votes were directed by then foreign minister John Manley, who is now Deputy Prime Minister.

"I don't know what [the] resolutions are going to be this fall," Mr. Graham said during his visit to the United Nations. "We'll have a look at them when they come up."

The Liberal government has also rarely refused invitations to United Nations and other international conferences on the Middle East, even those expected to descend into a one-sided condemnation of Israel.

Mr. Cotler again found himself at odds with his party recently when he joined opposition MPs in slamming the government's refusal to join the United States, Israel and Australia in boycotting one such conference.

At it, Arab and Muslim countries led a bid to declare Israel in contravention of a major treaty on humanitarian law.

Canada endorsed the conference declaration that demanded the "Occupying power refrain from ... wilful killing, torture [and] unlawful deportation" of Palestinians.

The document made no mention of Palestinian atrocities.

©2002 National Post

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