Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird has accused the United Nations of abandoning principles to give Palestinians upgraded status, and hinted Canada will retaliate.
The Canadian rebuff came after Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, greeted by a standing ovation at the UN General Assembly, asked for a new Palestinians status as a "non-member observer state" that he said will "breathe new life" into peace talks. Palestinians, he said, had faced a flood of threats for launching the UN bid, which he called, a "peaceful political and diplomatic endeavour."
Mr. Baird took a prominent role in the debate soon after, providing a direct and lengthy argument against the Palestinian bid, and serving as a staunch ally to the Israeli government's interests.
As one of only three foreign ministers who attended the debate, he was one of the few allowed to make his case before the vote – and thus it was only Israel and Canada who made the last case against the Palestinian resolution. The Palestinian resolution passed by a large margin, 138 votes for and 9 votes against.
"This resolution will not advance the cause of peace or spur a return to negotiations. Will the Palestinian people be better off as a result? No," Mr. Baird said. "On the contrary, this unilateral step will harden positions and raise unrealistic expectations while doing nothing to improve the lives of the Palestinian people."
Mr. Baird's speech argued that the UN itself has repeatedly endorsed the rule that the only path to Middle East peace comes through negotiations – and that accepting the Palestinian Authority as a "non-member observer state" breaches that principle.
"It is for these reasons that Canada is voting against this resolution," Mr. Baird said in his speech to the UN session. "As a result of this body's utterly regrettable decision to abandon policy and principle, we will be considering all available next steps."
That is a hint that Canada will retaliate against Mr. Abbas and the Palestinian Authority, but Mr. Baird provided no indication of what that means – or whether it will come in the form of small, symbolic measures, or more drastic steps, like expelling the Palestinian representative in Ottawa or cutting off aid.
Canada had provided $300-million in aid to the Palestinian Authority over the past five years – and though it is not as crucial as larger sums from the U.S., the money does matter to the cash-strapped Palestinian treasury.
Mr. Baird's direct intervention at the UN shows that the Harper government makes it a point of pride to cast itself as Israel's most staunch ally. They have made that part of their political identity, and, far from worrying about being in a tiny minority on the international stage, have boasted that they will stand in support of Israel even if they are going against the grain. It was Mr. Baird who decided to go to New York to make the case himself, and not at the request of Israel or the U.S., his aides said.
For most of his speech, however, Mr. Baird stuck to making a case in the diplomatic language of historical UN resolutions – in effect, trying to make a legalistic case that the Palestinian resolution stepped outside the bounds of accepted international practice.
He argued that since 1947, UN resolutions have repeatedly, and increasingly, stressed that the Israeli-Palestinian dispute must be resolved through negotiation. The Palestinian bid, he said, is a unilateral step, and that will undermine negotiations.
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