Canwest News Service Monday, January 14, 2008
RAMALLAH, West Bank – Canadian Foreign Minister Maxime Bernier told his Palestinian hosts Sunday that he intends to tell Israel that "any new settlements were contrary to the peace process."
But Bernier, who met with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert Sunday night and is scheduled to meet with Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni today, declined to say whether Canada considered Jewish housing projects in parts of the Holy City – claimed by the Palestinians for their future capital – as settlements, as U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice had indicated during an interview with an Israeli newspaper last week.
On the separate matter of much smaller Jewish outposts in the West Bank, which are often a collection of trailers clinging to a hilltop, Israeli media reported that Olmert told cabinet colleagues Sunday that it was a "disgrace" that his country had not removed them. Israel promised to do so four years ago as part of the so-called Middle East road map.
Olmert’s comment was in apparent response to remarks about Israel’s obligation to remove outposts by U.S. President George W. Bush when he visited Israel and the West Bank last week.
According to a statement from Olmert’s office, Bernier "expressed Canada’s friendship for the State of Israel and Ottawa’s support for the Annapolis process."
Olmert told Bernier that he hoped to meet soon with Prime Minister Stephen Harper either in Canada or in Israel, the statement said. As well as discussing the Israel-Palestinian peace process, Olmert and Bernier talked about the international campaign to thwart any Iranian attempt to acquire nuclear weapons.
Bernier spoke with President Mahmoud Abbas and Foreign Minister Riad Malki during his visit to the Palestinian Authority’s provisional capital on the fifth day of a six-day trip to India and the Middle East.
The Canadian foreign minister was in Ramallah to discuss the $300-million financial aid package that Canada announced at a Palestinian donors’ conference last month in Paris that had been called to strengthen the territory’s feeble public institutions and its struggling economy. Canada’s contribution was the fifth largest of any country at the Paris meeting.
"This funding will help the Palestinians build security, governance and prosperity and help combat hatred and incitement," Bernier said in a speech as Malki stood at his side, adding that this process would have the highest standards of accountability and transparency.
According to a background statement released later by Bernier’s office, a "due diligence protocol" employs monitoring throughout the life of the project to ensure that Canadian funds do not directly or indirectly fund a terrorist or terrorist group.
Asked about the widely held view among Palestinian officials that that there has been a sharp tilt in Canadian policy in Israel’s favour since the Conservative government took power, Malki replied, "we believe in quiet diplomacy and that means a frank, open discussion with Canada. If we have any issues to raise with Canada we will do it this way. We are satisfied with the working relationship that we have."
Bernier also met on Sunday in Jerusalem with Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak.
While in India last week, Bernier took up the case of Montreal electronics businessman Saul Itzhayek, who has been in an Indian jail since last spring for having entered the country with an expired visa.
"These discussions were private," Bernier said in French of the representations he had made with the Indian government on Itzhayek’s behalf. "We asked that this case be put in order as soon as possible. It is an important case for us and we bring it up all the time."
According to former Liberal justice minister, Irwin Cotler, who is Itzhayek’s MP and "has championed his case and his cause," the 42 year old Montrealer was entrapped by Indian police who allegedly encouraged him to cross the border from Nepal to collect his passport, which his driver had taken to withdraw money from Canada from an Indian bank. Itzhayek, who was convicted of the visa offence in October, has charged that Indian police had suggested that if he paid a bribe he could resolve his predicament.
Without elaborating, parliamentary secretary Deepak Obhrai, who accompanied Bernier on his visit to India and the Middle East, said that Canada was hopeful that progress was being made on Itzhayek’s case.
The husband and father of two has lost more than 30 kilograms since being imprisoned in a remote mountainous area in northern India, according to family members in Montreal.