Friday, March 30, 2007

Canada risks isolation in the Arab world

Palestinians warn Canada of necessity for dialogue
Policy that bans meetings with officials risks isolation in Arab world, minister says
By CAROLYNNE WHEELER AND GLORIA GALLOWAY The Globe and Mail March 30, 2007 – Page A15

JERUSALEM AND OTTAWA -- Canada risks isolation in the Arab world if it does not rescind its ban on meeting with members of the new coalition Palestinian government as the United States, United Nations and much of Europe have done, Palestinian Authority leaders caution.

The warning comes after Foreign Affairs Minister Peter MacKay and Prime Minister Stephen Harper both snubbed Mustafa Barghouti, the moderate new Palestinian Information Minister, who was in Ottawa this week.

Canadian officials yesterday confirmed they would not meet any member of the new government, taking a harder line than the White House. "It's our policy to have no contact with members of the government or deputy ministers -- that's what we're suggesting," said Daniel Dugas, Mr. MacKay's director of communications. "The minister has met [Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud] Abbas and speaks with him regularly."

The statement comes after Mr. MacKay told the House of Commons this week that Canada supports Mr. Abbas's efforts toward peace.

"Until such time as we see progress in the area of the Quartet principles, which call for the recognition of Israel, which call for the cessation of violence, which call for the road map to be adhered to, we are not going to deal directly with a terrorist organization, namely Hamas," he said.

Mr. Barghouti, a one-time presidential candidate seen as a moderate, with no links to the Islamist Hamas party, met with new UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and the Swedish Foreign Minister just days before his arrival in Canada, where he was told the Canadian government was still formulating its policy on dealing with the new coalition.

"We think the Canadian position is either too slow or too much influenced by the Israelis," he said in a telephone interview from Ottawa yesterday, where he met with MPs from the Liberal, NDP and Bloc Québécois parties, and attended a committee meeting involving a Conservative MP.

Most Western countries began enforcing sanctions against the Palestinian Authority government when Hamas was elected just over a year ago after it refused to renounce violence and recognize Israel's right to exist. Hamas is listed as a terrorist organization by most Western countries, including Canada, and Canada was the first of many countries to cut off financial aid.

But months of negotiation between Palestinian factions culminated in a power-sharing agreement signed last month in Mecca, which aimed to lift the blockade at least partly by agreeing to respect past accords that recognize Israel.

Although aid has not been restored, U.S. diplomats met recently with new Palestinian finance minister Salam Fayyad, also a moderate. Representatives from several European nations have either travelled to the West Bank for meetings or invited Palestinian leaders for official visits. Mr. Barghouti himself heads today to Italy to meet with Italian Foreign Minister Massimo D'Alema before returning home.

Israel, however, has argued for a continuation of the suspension of aid and contact, saying the new government has not explicitly recognized its right to exist. "This is exactly what we were asking for, because we see this as a government with an extremist platform, and it's important for the world to recognize it," an Israeli Foreign Ministry spokeswoman said last night.

Mr. Barghouti warned that Canada's move could leave it standing alone with Israel, losing its traditional position as a neutral party in the Arab world.

"My message is for the Canadian government to look at our platform with your own Canadian eyes and not with Israeli glasses on," Mr. Barghouti said. "I think it's the [Canadian] government that should feel isolated in its position."

A medical doctor who also holds a degree in management from Stanford University, Mr. Barghouti has met with Canadian officials in the past, including the Prime Minister's special envoy to the Middle East, Wajid Khan. As a representative of the Independent Palestine party and former presidential candidate, Mr. Barghouti is seen as a moderate, liberal politician critical of government corruption and violence.

This trip, he said, was planned before the unity government was formed, but he decided to proceed as a "golden opportunity" to boost relations with Canada.

Instead, the chilly greeting has left Palestinian officials fuming.

"[Barghouti] is the same person who's gone back and forth to Canada and had contact with Canadian officials before," said Abdullah Abdullah, a Fatah parliamentarian who chairs the legislative council's political committee, and who was a Palestine Liberation Organization representative to Canada from 1972 to 1990. "It isn't going to help Canada's image and standing as a fair, neutral country with a tradition of peacemaking."


FurGaia said...

I guess Palestinians were being rather nice & leaving the door open when they suggested yesterday that Canada was 'confused' :-)

FurGaia said...
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