June 10, 2012 – Israel, Palestine and the Future of Canada’s Foreign Policy: Bob Rae, MP

On June 10, Hon. Bob Rae spoke at a JSpaceCanada event held at the Narayever Synagogue.  The introduction was given by Dr. Karen Mock:

karen-10-06-2012-10-11-47-PWhen I heard that Bob had accepted our invitation to speak on the topic of Israel, the Palestinians and the future of Canada’s Foreign Policy, it could have been written by a member of JSpaceCanada! It summarizes our philosophy so well. I’ll read the last few paragraphs:“Canada’s friendship with Israelis deep and permanent. But that friendship does not mean we can be indifferent to the Palestinian claim to a viable state. The logic of the UN decision in 1947 to accept partition clearly implied there would be not just one but two states in the old Ottoman and British Mandate. We should be supporting the creation of a Palestinian state and show more leadership in expressing what it will take to get there.”“For the longest time Canadian foreign policy in the Middle Eas thas been bedeviled by the notion that we must be either “pro-Israel” or “pro-Arab”.We should be both. Our ties of emotion and friendship are deep with many countries, and we must be proud of our own history, our diplomatic achievements and commitments to human rights and international law.”“Canada diminishes itself when it is less than it could be, when it chooses to see the world through a narrow lens, and when it turns every foreign issue into a partisan stance instead of an opportunity for statesmanship.”

Ladies and gentlemen, one of the true Canadian statesmen of our time, the Honourable Bob Rae!

After the introduction, the speaker gave a short address followed by questions from the audience, moderated by Issie Lyon. We provide excerpts of the address:

Thank you for the kind introduction. I’m not used to hearing myself quoted, unless it’s in an attack ad on TV, out of context!

I want to commend JSpace for wanting to raise more voices of influence when it comes to Israel and Palestine. There are so many more nuances and the situation is so much more complicated than most Canadians realize.

After every trip I make to Israel, I am always struck by how there is far more diversity of opinion in Israel than here in Canada. Here there seems to be only two extremes of opinion. We need to understand what is and isn’t anti-semitic – it is not anti-semitic to criticize the policies of the government. It is anti-semitic to vilify only Israel and to delegitimize it as a state or call for it to be dismantled. And it is important to recognize the history and nature of Zionism and the creation of Israel. It has to be understood as social democratic event in the history of Jewish people and Europe There are enormous challenges in the Middle East, and not just since 1948 or 1967, but since 1867! While Jews have populated the area throughout history, the arrival of large numbers of immigrants to Palestine over the years caused huge reaction and upheaval. We have two groups of people, each with a legitimate claim to a piece of real estate, a land that has tremendous historical resonance for both peoples! Partition in 1947 was recommended by a Canadian judge; and it was not a new idea. It had previously been rejected by Arabs, until the UN re-introduced it and developed it further and the vote passed, with the intention of creating two states. One state won’t work – you can’t have one group of first class citizens & one group of second class citizens. You either have to have two democratic states of equal citizens, or one democratic state, with equal citizens. Any solution which denies legitimacy of the other side will ultimately fail — it will not/cannot be a steady or reliable solution In Canada we must try to create a climate where we can have a reasonable discussion and debate (without the excesses of ‘Israeli Apartheid Week’ and without denying Palestinians the right to self-determination and equal treatment). While years ago there seemed to be more hope, in my recent trips I have noticed a real feeling of disillusionment within Israel — after collapse of Oslo and the impact of the second Intifada. But we can’t give up. We need to have real negotiations. We can’t ask people to do something they cannot do — that belies any real negotiation, any give and take There are changes we are witnessing in positive directions – for example, in the West Bank, there is a growing economy — real people, in real businesses, in real cities, such as Ramallah. The situation has dramatically improved, and many Palestinians are working to build the economy — there are even a few Canadian soldiers there helping to build an infrastructure, police training, etc. – to provide the basis of viable operations of a state

Conflict Resolution vs. conflict “management”

When people think the situation can’t be resolved, there is a trend to use the term ‘conflict management’ – that is accepting the conflict and somehow managing it. This creates ongoing tension among those in conflict, because people are not dealing with the grand objective, but merely ‘manage’ the ongoing problematic situation. What we need are practical measures that will actually resolve the conflict. But there is a messianic quality to the extremists on both sides of the argument. Arafat was in both camps — trying to resolve the conflict and at the same time getting caught in the rhetoric. All efforts of Oslo couldn’t define how to get to a solution – the practical aspects. Abbas is more down to earth and more practical, but he’s wrestling with ‘what will the rest of Arab World think?’ The weight of people is on his shoulders. There are now more violent forces at work in the region, while at the same time as there is a desire for more democracy. The immediate future? The lion and lamb are not lying down just yet … There are too many who don’t want reason to prevail As Irwin Cotler says, we need to understand the culture of violence in the region, and the culture of hatred (eg. attitudes in Egypt where the majority believes the Jews were responsible for the attacks on 9/11) So we shouldn’t engage in wishful thinking or fantasies – a few examples.

When we find a solution to conflict between Israel and Palestine, all the rest of the problems in the region/world will be resolved – fantasy! Somehow Israel’s experience with attempting to settle and allow military occupation since 1967 is different – and shouldn’t be subjected to same resentment as every other imperialist occupation ever – wishful thinking! Palestinians are interested in economy, not politics – not so! They are deeply interested in politics, they want a country. Never underestimate their underlying drive, we must understand the power of that claim.

There is still much hard work ahead, we need to keep at it, and Canada can and should play a role.

Q. Is there a moment here that can’t be lost by developing younger generation?

Canada is the only country without a Rights and Democracy type of organization for developing democracy and governance. What are kids learning in school? Levels of fantasy have deep roots and real consequences. Need to work with the education systems. Youth work must also come from Israel and Palestinian society.

Q. I’m worried for the development of JSpace, when funding is jeopardized for groups not aligned with the current government ideology.

There is something wrong happening now – singling out of environmental charities, and others. Political conformity aggressively pursued in a way never seen before in Canada.

Q. What is our current relationship with the Arab League? Are there still demands for pre-conditions?

No preconditions asked for now – Israel is ready to negotiate without them. Palestine still wants all settlement construction to stop. Canada does not have credibility with Arab League – we have no ambassador there. We must understand there is more than one narrative, and they need to be considered in order to have any credibility at all.

Q. Could you comment on Iran?

There is a general deep concern that the world should have. But what to do is the challenge. Netanyahu: Iran is existential threat to state of Israel, and necessary steps should be taken to stop them. Peres: We must consider the consequences of our actions – need to think it through, what next? Iran is deeply repressive government, violence increasing internally against their own people, pitting Shia vs Sunni; most of their neighbours are very upset.

Q. What is the implication of the Arab Spring for Israel?

Practical consequences need to be looked at – lots of big questions – partner needs to be Egypt. The Sinai is a security nightmare. Arms are being transported to Gaza. We must begin a real discussion with emerging governments. Important to enhance our credibility and regain our significant peacekeeping and negotiating role.

Mr. Rae’s address was greeted by extended applause from the near-capacity audience at the Narayever Synagogue.

Notes transcribed by Karen Mock. Photos courtesy of NJ Weiner.

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