Canadian Jewish Political Affairs Committee
Foreign Affairs minister visits Mideast for first time

Canadian Jewish News 

By ANDY LEVY-AJZENKOPF, Staff Reporter  


Thursday, 10 January 2008 

Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister Maxime Bernier, left, is scheduled to make his first visit to Israel this week. The six-day trip – Jan. 9 to 14 – will see the minister meet with “a range of high-ranking officials, political leaders and civil society representatives,” his office said in a statement.


Bernier will also be visiting the West Bank, Saudi Arabia and India.


The trip follows Canada’s December pledge at the Paris conference of $300 million in aid to the Palestinian Authority over the next five years as part of a world effort to help continue the renewed Middle East peace process begun in Annapolis, Md., last November.


At the time, Moshe Ronen, national chair of the Canada-Israel Committee – the official representative of the organized Canadian Jewish community on Canada-Israel relations –  asked Ottawa to ensure that any funds designated for the PA come attached with “careful monitoring and measures to ensure accountability and transparency.”


Bernier is scheduled to meet with PA President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah on Jan. 13 and conclude his trip with a visit to Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert on Jan. 14 in Tel Aviv.


“I am looking forward to my first visit to the Middle East and to this opportunity to discuss regional issues of mutual concern,” Bernier said in the statement. “Our message in the region is clear: we support efforts that will lead to a peaceful and comprehensive resolution to the Palestinian-Israel conflict.”


A CIC team will be travelling to Israel with the minister.


Shimon Fogel, CEO of the CIC, told The CJN that he is “encouraged” by what he sees as the purpose behind Bernier’s trip.“Our expectation is… that he will be conveying a message to the Saudis vis-a-vis the constructive role they can play  in normalizing relations with Israel,” Fogel said.


He also reaffirmed the CIC’s hope that Bernier will tell Abbas that Canada expects him to exercise rigid control over the financial aid it has pledged to the PA.


“As the Palestinians look towards enhanced civil society, institution-building, enhanced security and the like… we feel it’s important for Palestinians to understand that the support from the international community, and from Canada in particular, is not unconditional,” Fogel said.


Earlier this month, a spokesperson for the Department of Foreign Affairs told The CJN that Canada would ensure that its promised funds “do not directly or indirectly benefit Hamas or other terrorist groups listed under Canadian law.”Fogel said the CIC is also looking forward to Canada re-affirming its “special relationship” with Israel and conveying the support that the Jewish state enjoys in Canada as it “tries to navigate a better situation on the ground and an optimistic future.”


Calls by The CJN to the Foreign Affairs Department for comment were not returned by deadline.