A do to mark the 25th anniversary of the Canada-Arab Business Council illustrated just how important that part of the world is to the Harper government. A handful of high-profile ministers, including Health Minister Tony Clement, Public Safety Minister Stockwell Day and Foreign Affairs Minister Maxime Bernier, showed up.
Mr. Bernier delivered the keynote address. In his remarks, the minister said Canada’s policy toward the Arab world is threefold: the country wants to "increasingly direct our energy in promoting peace and prosperity," it wants to help the business community increase trade between Canada and the region and it wants to increase investment. "And we are doing that," Mr. Bernier said.
"I’ve made trips to Israel, the West Bank and the United Arab Emirates," he said. "And I was impressed by the business opportunities."
Beyond business, though, is the overriding goal of encouraging peace between Israel and Palestine, the minister said.
"Our first, and most important commitment is to support talks between Israel and Palestine," he said, adding that what must come out of those talks is an agreement that recognizes Israel’s right to live next to its neighbours and Palestine’s right to a viable Palestinian state.
"Peace can only be realized by negotiations between Palestine and Israel," Mr. Bernier said. "Peace can only be maintained if there’s a viable Palestinian state. This is why we’re providing such support to the Palestinian Authority."
Mr. Bernier also said his government has urged Israel to comply with its obligations under international law as far as settlements are concerned.
"We urged Israel to take all the precautions for the safety of its citizens, and let’s be clear — the (bombing) from the West Bank must be stopped," he said.
Preferring to stick to political topics since the crowd of business leaders already knows the trade and investment situation and since those "relations are solid," Mr. Bernier also noted that Lebanon and Iran are both worries for Canada.
"We recognize the global and regional complications of leaving these issues unresolved," he said. "Regional peace and security is our goal."
With respect to business, he said: "My message is simple — we are there, you are here and we want to continue to build on the economic relations we have with the Arab World.
"You’re the ones who create jobs, you’re the ones who create growth, you’re the ones who create prosperity and I want to thank you."
United Arab Emirates Ambassador Hassan Al-Suwaidi, in turn, thanked the minister and told him the Arab world is pleased by Canada’s actions in the region.
"We encourage Canada to continue to support peace in the Middle East and we’ve been encouraged by Canada’s active participation and financial commitment of $300 million (toward peace)," Mr. Al-Suwaidi said. He added that on the trade side, the Arab world’s leaders have been especially impressed by the number of ministerial visits Canada has made.
"We have no global future without joint cooperation," he said.
The evening attracted several other diplomats including Moroccan Ambassador Mohamed Tangi, Yemeni Ambassador Abdulla Nasher, Egyptian Ambassador Mahmoud El-Saeed, Sudanese Ambassador Faiza Hassan Taha Armousa, Kuwaiti Ambassador Musaed Al-Haroun, Syrian Ambassador Jamil Sakr, Jordanian Ambassador Nabil Barto, Algerian Ambassador Smail Bemamara, Palestinian representative Amin Abou-Hassira, Lebanese chargé d’affaires Massoud Maalouf and Tunisian chargé d’affaires Mohamed Elloumi.
Sri Lanka Celebrates
In his address at Sri Lanka’s Independence Day, High Commissioner W.J.S. Karunaratne was cautiously optimistic about the possibility of an end to the civil strife with which his country has been struggling.
"On this happy occasion, I wish to emphasize the need to rededicate ourselves to usher in a peaceful, prosperous and united Sri Lanka — a nation where people of all communities could live with amity and concord, mutual understanding and respect."
He told the group his country could be proud of its efforts in human development but he said much work remains "to make freedom more meaningful to the vast majority of our people. It is high time that we break away forever from the destabilizing damage of terrorism and poverty that have distorted our freedom."
Mr. Karunaratne drew attention to President Mahinda Rajapakse’s latest proposals for economic development and peace. "I have no doubt that Sri Lankans the world over would welcome this latest peace initiative as it could be a promising start to an overall solution to the national issue," he said.
To mark Israel’s 60th anniversary, there’s been a series of events that continue for the next few days.
Tomorrow, Yariv Oppenheimer, director of Peace Now, Israel will give a talk on the Zionist peace camp and the new push for peace. It takes place at the University of Ottawa’s Montpetit building at 7 p.m., room 201. Mr. Oppenheimer will join a 60th birthday party for Israel at the Urban Well afterward.
Friday night, at 6:30 p.m., there’s a MASA Shabbat Dinner, titled Israel at 60, at Carleton University’s University Centre, Room 376. The cost is $5. MASA is an international program that enables thousands of Jewish students to study in Israel for a semester or a year. It is managed an Israel-based non-profit organization in Jerusalem.
Jennifer Campbell is a freelance writer and editor in Ottawa. Reach her at Diplomatica@sympatico.ca.