Sunday, December 04, 2005 - Canada makes an about-face on Mideast - Canada makes an about-face on Mideast
: "W hat do we have in common with Micronesia, Nauru, Palau, Tuvalu and Vanuatu?

Thanks to Paul Martin's pro-Israeli shift, Canada has joined them, the United States and Israel in opposing United Nations resolutions on the Arab-Israeli conflict.

In overturning long-standing Canadian policy, Martin has also broken away from the overwhelming consensus of the international community, including Europe.

He has taken a position even Tony Blair won't.

Over the past year, Ottawa has changed Canada's position on three resolutions. On Thursday, it flipped on three more.

The biggest was on an annual resolution urging Israeli withdrawal from territory occupied since 1967.

The General Assembly voted 156 for and 6 against, with nine abstentions: Canada, Cameroon, Costa Rica, Nauru, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Tuvalu, Uganda and Vanuatu.

Canada said the resolution should have had a clear condemnation of suicide bombing.

Canada reversed itself on two more resolutions of routine support for U.N. organs working on behalf of Palestinian rights.

On both, only eight states were opposed ? Australia, Canada, Israel, Marshall Islands, Micronesia, Nauru, Palau and the United States. Canada said the money is best spent elsewhere.

As it had last year, Canada also voted against a resolution calling on Israel to withdraw from the Syrian Golan Heights. The vote was 106 for and just six against ? Canada, Israel, Marshall Islands, Micronesia, Palau and the United States.

Canada said the resolution put the onus on one, not both parties. But the Assembly put the greater burden on the party engaged in the illegal occupation.

U.S. ambassador John Bolton dismissed the votes as 'purely symbolic' and useless. Which they are ? because Israel ignores them, with the American veto in the Security Council.

The votes in New York capped a fortnight of hectic activity on the Arab-Israeli file in Canada.

On Nov. 13, Martin told the North American gathering of the United Jewish Communities in Toronto: 'Israel's values are Canada's values.' And he pledged to 'eliminate the ... annual ritual of politicized anti-Israel resolutions.'

The Canadian Arab Federation and the National Council on Canada-Arab Relations criticized him on Nov. 22 at an Ottawa reception. Faraj Nakhleh, president of the federation, said:

'Canada does not share common values with some countries, like Israel, who disregard international law, whose human rights record is clearly questionable and who constantly disregard UN resolutions.

'U.N. resolutions are not a buffet where we can pick and choose what suits us.

'Why are U.N. resolutions regarding the Palestinian-Israeli issue not implemented?'

To be fair to Martin, he has also said he is 'a very strong supporter' of Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian leader. Canada has committed $36.7 million to the Palestinian Authority, and plans a Canada Centre for Peace and Democracy for the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.

Martin also wants to expand trade to the 300-million-strong Arab market. That, says Hussein Ameri, head of the Arab Council, is a priority with Arab Canadians more than the U.N. votes.

Martin is trying to please both the Jewish and Arab constituencies, one of which is well established and influential, while the other has twice the numbers and potential votes. That's good domestic democratic politics.

But Canada does end up with an awkward stance:

We did not join the illegal U.S. war on Iraq since the U.N. had not approved it, yet we support the United States and Israel, which undermine the U.N. and the rule of international law.

We want a peaceful, political solution to the Arab-Israeli dispute, yet we skewer the Arabs for 'politicizing' it by bringing it to the forum meant to affect just such an outcome.

Similar inconsistencies mark Martin's approach to the Israeli wall/fence.

Last year, Canada voted against it at the U.N., condemning its intrusion into the West Bank. But later, it abstained on a vote to refer the issue to the World Court, saying the issue is political, not legal.

The problem of Palestine is political, but must the Palestinians be deprived of as many political tools as possible?

Haroon Siddiqui, the Star's editorial page editor emeritus, appears Thursday and Sunday."

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