"Chretien Planning to Tread Carefully on Mideast Trip," proclaimed a headline in the Globe and Mail last week quoting government officials. It seems like the Prime Minister missed his briefing on this strategy. The first ever trip to Israel by a Canadian Prime Minister clearly reveals how successful the Zionist lobby has become and how they can create something out of nothing.
In fact they are so good that even the Prime Minister has forgotten the country's policy. How else can one explain Chretien's rewriting of Canadian Foreign policy in less than a week on his own to the embarrassment of officials in Ottawa.
Our story begins with the Prime Minister's arrival in Jerusalem. He visited the Western part of the city but could not spare a few minutes to cross into East Jerusalem. Understandably, Palestinian officials were upset that Chretien found the time to meet the Israeli president, the prime minister, supreme court president and Jerusalem mayor, without setting foot in East Jerusalem.
"It is an insult for the peace process," said Faisal Husseini a leading Palestinian negotiator . "The role of other states will be hurt in the peace process if they will not adopt a balanced policy between East and West Jerusalem," he told the Canadian Press. "Yes this can hurt us, yes this can offend us."
As if the slight was not bad enough, he added salt to the wound by joking with reporters: "I don't know if I am in west, south, north or east Jerusalem right now."
Of course this is no joking matter. The question of Jerusalem is central to the so called peace process. In fact, the issue of Jerusalem transcends the Palestinians. By favoring the Israeli position Chretien went against no less than 11 Security Council resolutions, the Fourth Geneva Convention and the long standing Canadian reputation of neutrality on this issue. Not to speak of offending the closely held religious attachment to this city in the hearts of the world's 1.2 billion Muslims. The Palestinian Authority can negotiate all it wants on other issues so long as it can answer to the Palestinians, but on the question of Jerusalem the entire global Muslim population has a stake.
Chretien also threw in his two cents on the tense situation between Israel and Syria by siding with Israel on its claim over the Sea of Galilee. He said that Israel has the right to keep the entire area captured from Syria in the 1967 war. Interestingly, nobody even asked his opinion on this issue - one that Canada had not taken a position on until his remarks.
Another big victory - however short lived -- for Tel Aviv came in Chretien's alleged offer to accept 15,000 Palestinian refugees. The alleged offer leaked by Barak's officials to the Israeli press, caused a storm not only with Palestinians but back home in Canada. A stunned immigration minister denied any such plans. Later, Chretien also denied any such commitment. Such an offer would play right into Israel's goal of finding homes for the millions of Palestinian refugees spread around the world. This would set the course for Israel to wash its hands of the refugee problem without letting them return to their homeland.
In moving away from the country's long history of neutrality it was made to look by the media and the Zionist lobby as if Chretien's deviations from Canadian policy were not one-sided. In fact, they were. The Palestinians did not get anything new on the political front out of this trip.
Many in the media and the Zionist lobby would have us believe that he took the Palestinian position by conceding that they have the right to declare independence unilaterally if the peace process falls through. They claim that this was a major shift. In fact, this was the position articulated by Chretien during Yasser Arafat's shuttle diplomacy in the final months leading up to the May 4, 1999 ending of the five-year Oslo accord peace process. Arafat was contemplating the declaration of statehood on May 4th and traveled the world to gauge international reaction.
At that time, Canada along with a number of other nations neither endorsed a May 4 unilateral declaration of a Palestinian state nor continued Israeli procrastination in the peace negotiations. Indeed, like some of the other countries Canada hinted of future support for statehood if Arafat held of the declaration on May 4, 1999. In fact, in response to the question whether Israel can block statehood forever he said: "It is the policy of this government that we have to do it through negotiations, but it cannot be blocked forever," Chretien said. "It has to come eventually to a resolution."
I don't see any difference in what he said then from what he said this week.
Interestingly, even at that time the Zionist lobby was up in arms. The Canada Israel Committee (CIC) wrote a letter to the Prime Minister's office stating that by acknowledging that a Palestinian state will be the result of negotiations, the government has prejudiced the outcome. The group even called Chretien's position "a fundamental deviation from traditional Canadian Middle East policy." In fact, according to the Canadian Jewish News some 20 Jewish community leaders even met with Foreign Minister Lloyd Axworthy to brief him the day before Arafat's visit to Canada last year. And since then a number of Jewish groups have been more diligent in keeping tabs on Canada's position.
How many times have Muslims and Arabs approached Axworthy? How many times has Axworthy made himself available?
Contrary to what Zionist spin doctors and some in the media propagate, Chretien's comments this week merely confirmed his earlier commitment. In fact, it has fallen short given that May 4th came and went without neither a declaration nor any real progress in the conditions of the millions of refugees that call themselves Palestinians. Canada and the other nations who asked Arafat to hold off on May 4th should now hold up their part of the deal.
Sadly, most of the country's Muslims and Arabs who vote - like the rest of the immigrants - cast their votes in favor of Chretien's Liberal party unconditionally. The party must be held accountable for Chretien's break from established policy of neutrality and United Nations resolutions on the question of Jerusalem and the Sea of Galilee. A clarification is also in order on the question of refugees. Indeed, Tarek Fatah a leading community activist and former communications director for the federal New Democratic Party (NDP) called on Muslims and Arabs to mobilize and make known their extreme disappointment. The least one can do is to send an email or throw a note of disapproval in the mailbox .