by Ron Csillag, The Canadian Jewish News,
Thursday, February 18, 1999
Toronto – National Jewish groups are using some of the strongest language in memory to condemn Canada's support for a February 9 United Nations resolution that called for an international conference to discuss the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
Israel advocacy groups are saying that by supporting the resolution, Canada is helping to violate the Oslo accords and is undermining its own role in the Mideast peace process.
One official of the Canada-Israel Committee (CIC) called the motion "one more in a long litany of useless and hateful resolutions" aimed at the territories conquered by Israel in 1967.
Canada's support for the resolution is "very distressing" said CIC executive director Rob Ritter.
The UN's General Assembly, meeting in an emergency special session last Tuesday, called for an international conference to ensure that the Geneva Conventions on protecting civilians in areas still under Israeli control are respected, as is the conventions' ban on settlements.
The resolution calls for the conference to take place in Geneva on July 15.
The non-binding resolution passed by a voted of 115 to 2. Only the United States joined Israel in opposing the motion. There were five abstentions, and 36 member nations were absent for the vote.
The Arab-Sponsored resolution calls for the 188 signatories to the 1949 Fourth Geneva Convention, which governs treatment of civilians in occupied lands during wartime, to meet at an unprecedented conference at the UN's Geneva office to discuss "measures to enforce the convention in the occupied Palestinian territory, including Jerusalem."
Israel responded quickly by saying it would boycott any such meeting. The resolution "seeks to apply the Fourth Geneva Convention selectively in only one case: Israel," said Dore Gold, the Jewish state's ambassador to the UN.
Gold repeatedly rejected calls for the conference, calling it "a vulgar distortion of international humanitarian law for the purpose of narrow political interests," and a mot point, given that 97 percent of the Palestinian population in the West Bank and Gaza Strip now lives under Palestinian rule.
Those sentiments were echoed by Israel's ambassador to Canada. In a statement released to The CJN, David Sultan said the resolution reflects "political considerations and not humanitarian ones," and is irrelevant to the efforts to find a peaceful solution to the conflict."
Even though Ottawa had misgivings about how the resolution was brought forward and the language it used, it voted for it anyway "because of our support for its principles," said Canada's deputy representative at the UN, Michel Duval, in a statement.
"Canada remains greatly concerned at Israeli settlement activities in East Jerusalem and elsewhere in the occupied territories. We urge Israel to stop these activities which, in Canada's view, are a violation of international law and harmful to the peace process," Duval stated in his explanation for his vote.
Canadian policy, he explained, is that the Fourth Geneva Convention, drafted following World War II, "applies to the territories occupied by Israel in 1967, including East Jerusalem. We call on Israel to accept de jure [as a matter of law] applicability of the Convention in the Occupied Territories, including East Jerusalem."
Canada's support for the resolution, however, was tempered with several concerns.
"We regret that the General Assembly is again using the Emergency Special Session mechanism in a manner which is not helpful," the Canadian statement said. "Moreover, we find that the resolution has been complicated by language which will not benefit the peace process and elements which are not germane to the question of the convening of the conference on the applicability of the Fourth Geneva Convention."
Given Canada's misgivings about the resolution, it should have voted against or at least abstained, said an angry Ritter.
This was not a run-of-the-mill anti-Israel resolution at the UN, he believes.
"It's really disturbing that they're using extraordinary measures [the emergency special session]. What I find galling is that with all the problems in the world, this is the one the UN singles out."
In effect, the resolution violates both the Oslo and the Wye River agreements because it attempts to move the peace process from bilateral talks between Israel and the Palestinians, to an international forum, the CIC says.
Canada is also effectively violating two fundamental principles of its Middle East policy, said CIC national chair Brian Morris: first, that it will avoid taking actions or making statements which undermine direct, bilateral talks between Israel and its peace partners, or otherwise prejudge the outcome of those negotiations; and second, that Canada, by its own explanation for its vote, opposes "any unilateral actions that would jeopardize peace…"
Harold Brief, who chairs the Israel affairs committee of Canadian Jewish Congress, said CJC is "very, very disappointed" with Canada's support for the resolution.
"When one reads Canada's explanation for its vote, one would assume it could either vote against or at least abstain," Brief said.
In a letter to Foreign Minister Lloyd Axworthy, Simon Rosenblum, national co-president of Canadian Friends of Peace Now, said Canada's yes vote "gave credibility to a stunt which can do nothing to further peace-making in the region."
The resolution was "highly rhetorical" and "extremely unbalanced," Peace Now said.
Israel has long disputed the applicability of the Geneva Convention to the territories on the grounds that the lands were not under any legitimate rule between 1948 and 1967.
The CIC also believes the Geneva Conventions are being misapplied to Israel.
The conventions were drafted in response to steps by the Nazis before and during World War II to forcibly transfer civilians to territories occupied as a result of unprovoked military aggression, whereas Jews are choosing to reside in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and areas of Jerusalem that had been inhabited by Jews prior to 1948, and conquered by Israel in 1967 after a "purely defensive" war, the CIC says.
The CIC says Canada's support for the UN resolution "is cause for further intensifying our approach to the government. This will be done."
Last Friday, Axworthy used Canada's new chairmanship of the UN's Security Council as a soapbox when he called on the world to begin talking about ways to protect civilians caught up in armed conflicts.
Past UN assemblies also asked Switzerland, as the depository of the Geneva Conventions, to convene a conference of the treaty's signatories. It organized a meeting last October, attended by some experts, but has yet to arrange a full-scale conference.
This time, however, Switzerland said the UN established no mechanism for a global conference.
"Switzerland cannot contemplate an active role in convening and holding a conference of this type unless the state parties first define a solid basis for the implementation of such a measure," said a Swiss UN observer.
Although the Palestinians won the vote for the conference, "we'll have to wait and see if they want it after the Israeli election," said a European UN envoy.
Stewart Wheeler, a spokesman for the Department of Foreign Affairs, told The CJN that Canada's explanation of its vote speaks for itself,
"Canada remains greatly concerned at settlement activity in East Jerusalem and the Occupied Territories."
At the same time, Canada is "a strong supporter of getting both sides to achieve a durable and lasting peace," Wheeler said.