Canada careful on Jerusalem
U.S. allies criticize embassy relocation plan
OTTAWA • Canada is walking a tightrope after U.S. President Donald Trump’s controversial decision Wednesday to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and to move the American embassy from Tel Aviv to the contested holy city.
The Liberal government has so far avoided overt criticism of the U.S. decision, despite strong reactions from other U.S. allies and from around the globe.
Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland issued a careful statement Wednesday that did not specifically mention Trump’s announcement.
“Canada is a steadfast ally and friend of Israel and friend to the Palestinian people. Canada’s longstanding position is that the status of Jerusalem can be resolved only as part of a general settlement of the Palestinian-Israeli dispute,” Freeland’s statement said.
“We are strongly committed to the goal of a comprehensive, just and lasting peace in the Middle East, including the creation of a Palestinian state living sideby-side in peace and security with Israel. We call for calm and continue to support the building of conditions necessary for the parties to find a solution.”
In a scrum with reporters earlier Wednesday, international development minister Marie-Claude Bibeau was more frank, saying in French that Canada has no intention of moving its embassy from Tel Aviv.
The broader context of the Canada-U.S. relationship inevitably hangs over every public statement Trudeau and his ministers make on Trump’s policies. Talks to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement continue, but seem to have reached a stalemate on a few potentially deal-breaking issues, and speculation is growing that Trump may seek to unilaterally exit the continental free trade zone.
The delicacy of Canada’s statement set it apart from many of its closest allies, including the United Kingdom, Germany and France — all were openly critical of the American decision even before it was officially announced. China and Russia worried publicly about its potential to destabilize the Middle East. Palestinian groups decried the decision, as reports of protests quickly emerged from Middle East capitals.
United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres said Wednesday the status of Jerusalem should rather be negotiated within a two-state peace process. “There is no alternative to the two-state solution,” he said. Heads of churches in the city of Jerusalem itself, meanwhile, pleaded that Trump “continue recognizing the international status of Jerusalem. Any sudden changes would cause irreparable harm.”
Some wondered why top Canadian officials weren’t more visibly active in trying to influence Trump’s decision.
“This is clearly a decision which is counter-productive,” NDP leader Jagmeet Singh said. Foreign affairs critic Hélène Laverdière urged Canada to condemn the announcement during question period Wednesday. “This is a devastating day for those who believe in peace, justice and security in the Middle East,” she said.
Conservatives, usually outspoken in their support for Israel, were conspicuously quiet on the issue Wednesday. They used the Commons question period to prioritize domestic issues, leading with questions about Liberal small business reforms and not immediately providing statements on Jerusalem.
It was a Conservative government, under Joe Clark, that in October 1979 broke an election promise to move Canada’s embassy to the contested city, a change of course based on arguments not so different than those heard in reaction to Trump’s decision. Moving
THE STATUS OF JERUSALEM CAN BE RESOLVED ONLY AS PART OF A GENERAL SETTLEMENT OF THE PALESTINIAN-ISRAELI DISPUTE — FOREIGN MINISTER CHRYSTIA FREELAND THERE IS NO ALTERNATIVE TO THE TWO-STATE SOLUTION.
from Tel Aviv “could be seen as prejudging negotiations among parties in the Middle East and might in fact work against progress towards a just and lasting peace settlement,” Clark said at the time.
In statements to media Wednesday Jewish-Canadian groups praised that logic, asking Trudeau to also relocate Canada’s embassy.
The Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center said it was hopeful Canada would “further deepen its ties with Israel and look at acknowledging Jerusalem as the capital.”
B’nai Brith Canada argued recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital “will advance the peace process, not obstruct it,” and the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs said “we have always maintained that Canada should formally recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.”
The Jerusalem municipality projected giant U.S. and Israeli flags onto the walls of the Old City on Wednesday.