Is the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict Canada’s Business?
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:
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.