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Trudeau needs to usher in a new Canadian position on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict

In the 78 days of electioneering prior to the federal election, our political leaders managed to find maybe 30 seconds for Israel and Palestine, and Canada's relationship to them.

Near the end of the first all-party debate on TV, Stephen Harper raised the issue, pointedly calling Israel "the best friend and ally this country has." Tom Mulcair replied briefly: "We take a very balanced approach. We want a safe state for Palestinians and a safe state for Israelis." Justin Trudeau then declared that "all parties are in agreement on this," and rushed to bring up the issue of Canadian-American relations. End of "debate."

With all due respect, Mr. Trudeau was wrong. You can either agree with Mr. Harper or Mr. Mulcair, but not both (though you can disagree with both). Which one the Liberal leader agreed with was left hanging.

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But it can't hang for long: The latest conflict between Israelis and Palestinians is quite likely to burst its boundaries soon and turn into a full-scale intifada or war between the two sides, very possibly on an unprecedented scale. Already, as has been the invariable pattern, some Israelis and many Palestinians have been injured or killed. Will there be a new Canadian position?

Typically enough, virtually all recent media coverage has stressed the role of young Palestinians – the "lone wolves" – who've gone on a spontaneous, unorganized knifing rampage against Israelis. That narrative perfectly reflects the view of the Benjamin Netanyahu government, invariably backed by the former Harper government. As always, the Palestinians started it.

But here's a quite dramatically different interpretation articulated by a Jewish journalist, Amira Hass, writing in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz.

In the battles between Israelis and Palestinians, Ms. Hass explains, "The Palestinians are fighting for their life, in the full sense of the word. We Israeli Jews are fighting for our privilege as a nation of masters, in the full ugliness of the term. That we notice there's a war on only when Jews are murdered does not cancel out the fact that Palestinians are being killed all the time, and that all the time we are doing everything in our power to make their lives unbearable.… When something in the war's one-sidedness is disturbed, and Jews are murdered, then we pay attention."

Here is the heart of the matter. According to Ms. Hass, "Young Palestinians do not go out to murder Jews because they are Jews, but because we are their occupiers, their torturers, their jailers, the thieves of their land and water, their exilers, the demolishers of their homes, the blockers of their horizon. Young Palestinians, vengeful and desperate, are willing to lose their lives and cause their families great pain because the enemy they face proves every day that its malice has no limits."

As anyone who has spent time in the occupied West Bank can testify, Ms. Hass is describing the daily humiliation that all Palestinians face. Its consequences can hardly be exaggerated. The best single explanation for Palestinians attacking Israelis, even when they can expect only harsh retribution, is this: "Victory for us is to see you suffer. This is all we want." They are words spoken to an Israeli by a Palestinian friend of his. Anyone who doesn't understand this motive for so much Palestinian behaviour, or fails to see how Israelis routinely exacerbate this feeling among Palestinians, will never understand Israel-Palestine relations.

So it's time for two-state proponents to recognize that there is no possibility in any foreseeable future for two safe independent states in Israel and the occupied West Bank/Gaza. No Israeli politician is prepared to offer terms that any Palestinian leader could possibly accept. Bibi Netanyahu made this explicitly clear on the very eve of the last Israeli election in March, when he not only shamelessly played the racist anti-Arab card for all it was worth – shades of the niqab! – but made it crystal-clear there'd be no Palestinian state so long as he remained in office.

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Of course Mr. Netanyahu's humiliation and provocation of Palestinians know little rest. Just last week he claimed that Hitler's idea to exterminate all Jews was inspired by a Palestinian religious leader. In the forthright words of noted Holocaust scholar Christopher Browning, this was "an historical fabrication, or more simply a lie." All those who look to a two-state solution from Mr. Netanyahu are wasting their breath.

Mr. Netanyahu would last week have been one of the few world leaders, perhaps including the Saudi royals, who regretted Stephen Harper's defeat. So what will the new voice of Canada have to say about Israel and the Palestinians? Here are two suggestions.

First, the wonderful Dr. Izzeldin Abuelaish, formerly of Gaza, now in Toronto, proposed a plan to bring to Canada for treatment 100 Gaza children who were badly wounded by Israel in the 2014 war. The Conservative government refused even to acknowledge the Abuelaish proposal. The prime-minister-designate should immediately call Dr. Abuelaish and agree to help the plan immediately.

Second, when the two leaders eventually meet, Mr. Trudeau should echo the United Nations, paraphrase Mr. Harper and say to Mr. Netanyahu: "Get out of the West Bank."

These steps will tell the world that Canada is really back.

Gerald Caplan is an Africa scholar, a former NDP national director and a regular panelist on CBC's Power & Politics.

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