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Is the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict Canada’s Business?

January 8, 2009

Through Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon, the government of Canada has called for an immediate ceasefire and sent $4 million to Gaza. Should Canada be doing more to solve the conflict in the Gaza Strip?

I see two possible sets of arguments on this one:

1. No. Canada is a relatively small country with a relatively small number of resources to devote to involvement abroad. We have to make choices about where to direct those resources. Gaza is not a Canadian priority, for several reasons:

a) We don’t have much strategic interest there in terms of trade.

b) We’ve made our commitment to the Middle East – in Afghanistan. Staying silent on other conflicts helps us remain an “honest broker.”

c) This conflict has been going on for so long, nothing we do will have any impact. Why bother?

d) It’s the utmost in arrogance to assume we know anything about an appropriate resolution to such a complex situation.

e) Moreover, given the extraordinarily polarized nature of views on the conflict, it’s unlikely we could do anything significant without offending a large swathe of involved parties, both here and in Israel/Gaza itself. As the agent of all its citizens, who are deeply divided on the issue, the government must stay completely neutral.

f) Particularly given (e), it’s very likely that any significant action by Canada could do more harm than good.

On the other hand:

2. Yes.

a) Canada has a long, historic bilateral relationship with both parties, particularly Israel. In 2007 Canada did $1.39 billion in trade with Israel. Moreover, other important military and trade allies (i.e. the US and Europe) might value and reward Canada’s help in solving the conflict.

b) Increasingly, conflicts in the Middle East have ripple effects that reach the entire international community. Canada has a responsibility to be deeply involved there, particularly given its stake in the Afghan conflict and its history of constructive involvement.

c) This conflict has been going for so long, it’s about time the international community banded together to put real effort into solving the problem.

d) As a country with expertise in brokering peace, Canada should play a key role here, both in engaging the two parties and in bringing the international community together.

e) Canadians, including those of Israeli or Palestinian origin, are deeply concerned about the conflict. As an agent of these citizens, it is the responsibility of government to advocate for a peaceful resolution that benefits both parties.

f) As a country that aspires to be a model for the world (as we’ve heard from Canadians over and over in our dialogue sessions) inaction sets the worst possible example. Acting in a way that we’d want other countries to emulate should be our goal; in this case, taking measured, strategic and neutral action to promote peace is the right thing to do.

Personally, I find 1.d) and 2.f) the most convincing of these arguments. I’ve listed even those that I don’t personally find persuasive (like 2d. – I don’t know if we can still claim our bow-tied success of 50 years ago makes us uniquely qualified for anything).

The list is far from exhaustive, and I’d be happy for people to add their own points (or even be braver than I am and take a side) in the comments section. You might want to read a bit about the Canadian position, where the different political parties stand, and relationships with Israel and Palestine first. In the blogosphere, this could qualify you as a relative expert.

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7 Comments leave one →
  1. January 28, 2009 4:23 pm

    I’m sorry you feel that way HH. For the record, I do think the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is Canada’s business – whether or not acts of terrorism increase as a result of this – because I tend to think human rights are everyone’s business in all cases. However, I also don’t think it’s ever a bad idea (or shortsighted or shallow) to consider two different points of view. I’m sorry I wasn’t able to encourage you to do that.

  2. January 28, 2009 10:33 am

    This is a very shortsighted, shallow and selfish analysis. I am certain you won’t feel the same when the palestinians regroup after the ceasefire and acts of terrorism increase in the western world. Do you think the world will be a better place if we just stood aside and let the Isrealis slaughter the Palestinians? Canada have a responsibility towards the Palestinians as they supported the creation of Israel. You are responsible for creating the hatred and marginalisation of the Muslim youth and therefore you are directly responsible and deserve to be terrorised.

  3. Tanya permalink
    January 12, 2009 11:01 am

    hey guys, I think the above is a really well thought out debate of the issue. I just came back from India so the mounting tensions between india and pakistan are occupying my thoughts as well, and the latest comments by the indian government ( and mounting skirmishes in Kashmir are particularly disconcerting, especially given pakistan’s proximity and role in afghanistan.

    How do we use our “Bang for buck” there?

  4. corsullivan permalink*
    January 10, 2009 3:09 pm

    That’s a very clear and helpful list of arguments for and against intervention. I think it would be worth adding the following points, on both sides.

    Against involvement:

    1g. There are other conflicts around the world that are broadly similar (two ethnic groups fighting over territory) and likely to prove a lot more tractable. If Canada’s objective is to reduce armed conflict and human suffering, in some global sense, we can probably expect more bang for our diplomatic buck in Sri Lanka, for example, than in the Middle East.

    1h. Although our history of bilateral engagement with each side may be long (point 2a), I wouldn’t regard it as particularly deep. Canada does not have the kind of historical relationship with either the Israelis or the Palestinians that might lead to a sense of loyalty and of automatic involvement in their problems.

    In favour of involvement:

    2g. Canada is often all too easy for other countries to ignore, so there’s some intrinsic value to speaking up and reminding the rest of the world of our existence.

    2h. Precisely because Canada has not been closely involved in recent decades, we may find it relatively easy to present ourselves as a neutral, disinterested party. The Europeans and especially the Americans bring a lot of baggage to any negotiations that they become involved in.

    In general, I find the arguments against involvement much more compelling. But that’s just me.

  5. reneethewriter permalink
    January 9, 2009 11:21 am

    Reilly, I salute you and the other writers on this site, Marakar, and Cor, for these posts: thoughtful.
    Reilly, this is a particular helpful laying out of positions re Canada’s role…thx.

  6. January 9, 2009 5:19 am

    “When the world community at the UN tried to stop the violence, the call for a ceasefire was blocked by the U.S., and Canada, to its shame, has fully supported the U.S., actually opposing the call for an immediate ceasefire,” “These actions by Canada and the U.S. amount to a green light for the killing to continue, and they make our governments complicit to the crimes being waged in Gaza.” – David Orchard. David Orchard who entered the Israeli consulate said people in that the city of Montreal could not support the continued bombing in Gaza. He also called for the federal government to break off relations with Israel until the military action stops.

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