[16 August, 2006]
By KEITH MARTIN
Over the past several weeks, there has been much attention paid to the way in which the federal government has responded to the crisis in the Middle East and how opposition parties have reacted. In particular, there has been concern by some members in the Jewish community that the Liberal Party has not demonstrated sufficient support for Israel in this current crisis. I feel that as the foreign affairs critic for the Official Opposition, I should clear up this misunderstanding.
Three weeks ago, I returned from Geneva where I met with various United Nations organizations and NGOs on this crisis. During those meetings, I was provided with the details on the high civilian casualty rate and destruction of infrastructure. Many officials expressed their concern that due to the hostilities, desperately needed humanitarian assistance and aid workers could not safely enter southern Lebanon. Thousands of civilians were isolated in heavy combat areas, unable to leave and rapidly running out of basic supplies.
Also, Hezbollah’s support in Lebanon had risen from 13 per cent at the beginning of the conflict to 89 per cent as of the end of July. At the same time, anti-Israeli sentiment had risen throughout the region. This had increased, not decreased, the security threats to Israel and Jews living in and outside the Middle East.
The Liberal Party believes that the loss of life in communities along the Israel’s northern border and in Haifa amongst Israelis, the serious damage done to the economy and infrastructure of Israel, the fact that thousands of Israelis have been living underground for the last five weeks, and the psychological stress Israelis have endured from these unprovoked attacks is deplorable.
Neither I, nor my colleagues in the Liberal Party, view Hezbollah as anything but a foreign-sponsored terrorist organization whose attacks continue to endanger the people of Israel, Lebanon and the region.
So allow me to make our position on this crisis perfectly clear. We support Israel’s right to defend itself. We acknowledge that this conflict was started by unprovoked attacks by Hezbollah, supported and aided by the governments of Syria and Iran. We condemn, in the strongest possible terms, the actions of these groups that undermine the safety and stability of the region. We are concerned that in the effort to remove Hezbollah, more than 1,000 Lebanese civilians have been killed (40 per cent of whom were children), and that these deaths, along with the destruction of Lebanon’s infrastructure, are being effectively used as a propaganda tool to stimulate anti-Israeli feelings and encourage more people to wage violence against Israel. The long-term implications of this to the security of Jews everywhere cannot be underestimated.
We support Israel’s right to engage in military actions against Hezbollah, however, these actions will not remove the threat to Israel. Thus our plan to address this crisis includes the following: implement a ceasefire, even for 48 hours, so that civilians can safely leave northern Israel and southern Lebanon. This would also allow the United Nations and other aid organizations to distribute urgently needed humanitarian aid to these areas.
We support a UN-sponsored force to enter Lebanon as soon as possible to assist the Lebanese government in disarming Hezbollah and destroying its arms caches and to assist the Lebanese government in regaining control over its country.
We support multinational talks to remove Hezbollah’s military wing from Lebanon and support a program to strengthen the Lebanese government’s ability to provide for the social needs (infrastructure, health care, etc.) in southern Lebanon.
We support the immediate return of the kidnapped Israeli soldiers as well as the release of detained Palestinian parliamentarians.
We support sanctions against Iran and Syria if they continue to work to inflame the region.
We support the resumption of peace talks and the sustainable resolution of the Palestinian/Israeli conflict under the auspices of creating a viable and secure Palestinian country next to a safe, secure Israeli state.
The Liberal Party’s proposals for the region are for the long-term safety and security of Israel, Lebanon and the region as a whole. We would not promote nor condone any initiative that violates this principle.
Keith Martin is the member of Parliament for Esquimalt – Juan de Fuca and the foreign affairs critic for the Official Opposition.