Canadian Jewish Political Affairs Committee
Canada needn’t play a partisan role in the Mideast, Bob Rae says.

Pro-Israel, pro-Arab and pro-peace; Canada’s friendship with Israel doesn’t
mean we can’t support a viable state for Palestinians

There is a story about two Israelis meeting in the street.

"How are things?""In a word, ‘good.’

In two words, ‘not good.’"

I have just spent 10 days travelling in the Middle East, meeting with
leaders in Cairo, Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Ramallah, Amman, Damascus and Beirut.

It is a time of intense discussion and debate: between Hamas and Fatah over
a unity government; among Arab leaders about putting life into their peace
initiative; among Israeli political leaders about a new government; among
everyone about Iran.

Surrounding it all is public opinion in the region, which wants peace and
security but in which deep resentments and anger rise up: Israeli opinion
remains incensed with the vitriolic rhetoric, the constant threats, and what
they see as a lack of real understanding of their situation.

Arab opinion is incensed with Israel’s attack on Gaza, a possible right-wing
government in Israel, and a peace process that in their eyes has gone
nowhere.

Seven years ago, Arab leaders launched an initiative that said the Arab
world would establish normal relations with Israel if Israel would accept
the borders of 1967 and thus allow for the establishment of a Palestinian
state in the West Bank and Gaza. There is some hope this approach will be
revived at next week’s Arab summit.

However, Iran espouses a radically different view. When its leaders talk of
Israel’s "occupation," they are not talking about what happened in 1967 and
after, but of Israel’s very existence and presence in the region. When they
talk of "resisting the Zionist entity" and of their support for Hamas and
Hezbollah, they are referring to a long-term vision of never-ending
struggle.

Iran’s refusal to comply with UN resolutions on the development of its
nuclear program, its military buildup and role in supplying arms to Hamas
and Hezbollah, both of which are publicly committed to the destruction of
Israel, is destabilizing the entire region.

Not surprisingly, Israeli opinion has hardened as a result: both the Lebanon
invasion of 2006 and the Gaza invasion of 2008-09 had widespread public
support. Israelis point to the improved security on the Lebanese border and
the dramatic drop in suicide bombs, which they attribute to the security
wall, as evidence that regardless of how it plays elsewhere, their approach
is working.

Israeli conservatives take this logic further, asserting that the conflict
cannot be resolved, only managed – with Israel holding the upper hand.What
is troubling about the "managing the conflict" scenario is that it ignores
how difficult living conditions are for most Palestinians. There are more
than 500 roadblocks in the West Bank, making normal civilian and economic
life extremely difficult. Israelis say "settlements are not an issue,"
meaning they will be resolved at the bargaining table, but continued
building on deeply contested land is unquestionably seen as both a
provocation and a barrier to peace by even the most moderate of
Palestinians.

Israel’s challenge is that Hamas and Hezbollah do not feel bound by the same
rules of war and engagement as Israel. Rocket launchers are placed on the
rooftops of schools and apartment buildings; military headquarters are
buried beneath hospitals. These tactics are frequently used by guerrillas
with popular support. But fighting these wars is painfully difficult.
Rockets and bombs go astray, innocent men, women and children are killed,
and the world is watching.

Being justified in a response does not mean the response will have a
successful result. Life is not fair. Hitting back, and hitting back hard,
will not necessarily produce the desired result.

Canada’s friendship with Israel is 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 showing more leadership in expressing what it will take to get there.

The Annapolis process set in motion an important effort to help the
Palestinian Authority take greater responsibility for security matters,
including assisting the Authority to train 6,000 members of the national
security force and the 2,000-strong presidential guard. There are nine
Canadians involved in this process. Canadians on the ground say the
Authority is ready to take on more, that there is room to dismantle
checkpoints and roadblocks. A wizened Fatah commander now in charge of the
national security force goes even further. "Give us the tools to do the job
and we shall do it." An old fedayeen fighter, he is ready to embrace the
two-state solution. But he sees no deep willingness in Israel to walk down
this path, which as he sees it only helps Hamas.

For the longest time Canadian foreign policy in the Middle East has been
bedevilled 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.