60 Years Later
Canada and the Origins of the Israel-Palestine Conflict, Part 3 of 3
Canada and the "Advanced Nations of the World":
In an essay published in 1984, the late Eqbal Ahmad described why it is that "the Palestinian experience, like the South African, affects a majority of mankind" at such a deep level. After the First World War, British policy in Palestine epitomized the massive Anglo-French betrayal of wartime guarantees for the region's independence. The events of 1948 resonated even more broadly. For much of humanity, Ahmad wrote,
"Our painful colonial past, neocolonial present, and the dangerous perspective for our future converge on the question of Palestine.
"August 1947 marked the beginning of decolonization, when British rule in India ended with a last spasmodic human carnage. In January 1948 Burma became independent, in February Ceylon; October 1949 witnessed the exhilarating final liberation of China. It was in those days of hopes and fulfillments that the colonization of Palestine occurred. ... Thus, at the dawn of decolonization, we were returned to the earliest, most intense form of colonial menace - the exclusivist settler colonialism which had dealt genocidal blows to the great civilizations and peoples of the Americas. ... The tragedy occurred as a counterpoint to contemporary history, a reminder that all was not well with the era of decolonization."(301)
In Canada, of course, the prevailing perspective was considerably different. The Canadian state - eager heir to the colonization of the Americas - remained firmly situated within a Western alliance that was reluctant, to say the least, to see its hold on much of the world undercut by processes of genuine decolonization. Under these circumstances, the specific relationships between leading Western states, the Zionist movement and the question of Palestine were not entirely straightforward. But it is the context set by these relationships which shaped official Canadian interaction with the Israel-Palestine conflict.
The first parts of this article focused on the role of the Canadian Zionist movement itself, as a way of illustrating the direct means by which Palestine was colonized. This account concludes by turning attention to the broader reality of Canadian Israel/Palestine policy, situated in relation to Canada's overall approach to international affairs.
From One Empire to Another: The Canadian State's International Orientation
There is no use in pretending that Canada's complicity in Israeli colonization and human rights abuses is a sort of anomaly, a stain on an otherwise relatively clean policy record. Canadian support for colonization practices in Palestine has certainly not been restricted to political Zionist organizations. But the complicity of Canadian society at large is not exceptional. Rather, it extends naturally from Canada's longstanding place in world order. Some brief reflections on this history are in order to set the context within which Canadian policy on Palestine developed.
Historically, of course, Canadian foreign policy was determined in the first instance by the British imperial sponsorship that guided the very formation of the Canadian state. In his recent work on the British Empire, John Newsinger begins by quoting an appropriate observation (of the 19th-century British dissident Ernest Jones) on the Empire's scope and character: "On its colonies the sun never sets, but the blood never dries." During the peak period of British imperialism, the Empire's loyal North American Dominion did its modest part to ensure that this remained the case.
For Canadian foreign policy, the 19th century opened with participation in British campaigns against the slave rebellions in the Caribbean, for which Upper and Lower Canada, as well as the Maritimes, provided resources, troops and commanding officers. It closed with the dispatch of Canadian troops to South Africa to join the fight for British imperial interests there. Meanwhile, colonization of the indigenous land base which forms the very basis for Canadian statehood proceeded apace. This drew from cross-continental colonial experience: when faced with the indigenous/Métis North-West rebellion of 1885, for example, the troops dispatched by Ottawa to repress the resistance fought under the command of General Frederick Middleton, a participant in the repression of India's landmark anti-colonial rebellion of 1857. It was without breaking from this history in the slightest that Canada entered the 20th century. (Evans; Naylor, 405 & 473)
By the early 20th century, the United States had aggressively asserted its predominance in the Western hemisphere, and Canadian officials approached international affairs highly attuned to relations of Anglo-American power. So it was with the British push into the Middle East. Canadian contributions to the Empire's defense gained officials at least a token measure of decision-making, and Prime Minister Borden even participated in one of the 1918 British Imperial War Cabinet meetings at which the fate of Palestine was discussed. But aside from a desire to achieve some measure of independence for its own sake, the only real limit to reflexive Canadian alignment with Britain was a commitment to maintaining good relations with the United States. On Palestine, the British had consulted U.S. officials and received approval before finalizing all major decisions. (Riddell, 13; Shaw, 1, 4 & 11) Thus in Canada - even setting aside Christian interpretations of scripture and other ideological factors - official alignment with Imperial policy on Palestine came naturally.
In the early years of the British mandate in Palestine, then, arms-length Canadian endorsement of British policy was simple enough. By the 1940s, things became a good deal more complicated.
As Britain, from the end of the '30s, sharply reduced its support for political Zionist aims, the Palestine policies of Britain and the United States began to diverge. Until this time, the Middle East was understood to be an area of predominant British influence, and in Palestine as elsewhere, the U.S. mostly deferred to British decision-makers. But towards the middle of the century, U.S. power grew to unprecedented proportions, and the ambitions of U.S. planners accordingly expanded eastward. This cleared the way for the U.S. to make decisions on Palestine which ran against British imperial preferences.
The wide-ranging change in U.S. perceptions at this time is described by Mark Curtis in his work on Anglo-American Power and World Order. Curtis explains that following World War II, Anglo-American relations shifted as the United States adopted a "policy of supporting British colonialism but also one of gradually replacing British power with its own and securing British dependence on US power. This had been a longstanding intention," Curtis continues. "As early as 1942, the President of the Council on Foreign Relations, an academic think-tank that, especially during the war years, was responsible for helping develop the broad contours of U.S. foreign policy, stated that ‘the British empire as it existed in the past will never reappear and ... the United States will have to take its place.'" As the war came to a close and this intention was translated into policy, the British ambassador to Washington observed that the U.S. "expected [Britain] to take her place as junior partner in an orbit of power predominantly under U.S. aegis." (Curtis, 25-26)
The Canadian state had a strong interest in seeing this post-war relationship shift without producing excessive competitive tension between Britain and the United States. The U.S. was certainly not looking towards a post-war order in which former spheres of European imperial influence would be replaced by independent regional systems, or by an inclusive model of international governance. Such a "universalistic approach" was strategically bankrupt, State Department policy planning director George Kennan explained, as it would force the U.S. to "make decisions on the lofty but simple plane of moral principle and under the protecting cover of majority decision." The U.S. would instead enforce the new order in concert with a select group of states: "if alliance is to be effective it must be based upon real community of interest and outlook, which is to be found only among limited groups of governments, and not upon the abstract formalism of universal international law or international organization."
True, the international system sought by Kennan and his colleagues would involve the downgrading of Britain's predominance in regions it had formerly held in dependence. But whether or not the U.S. would decisively act "to take Britain into our own U.S.-Canadian orbit," as Kennan described the prospect in 1948, "the cultivation of a closer association with the UK and Canada" was conceived as integral to the reconstitution of the chosen international alliance. In the new order, Canada could thus aspire to a very privileged position (from which the formerly colonized world would naturally be excluded): "For a truly stable world order can proceed, within our lifetime, only from the older, mellower and more advanced nations of the world - nations for which the concept of order, as opposed to power, has value and meaning."(Kennan, 528 & 510)
It was in relation to this emerging system of U.S.-orchestrated power, and particularly as an appendage to the Anglo-American alliance which would form such a prominent part of it, that the Canadian state pursued its post-war development. And it was as a point of friction within the envisioned alliance that Canadian officials approached the question of Palestine.
Anglo-American Relations on Palestine
The post-WWII divergence of U.S. policy on Palestine with that of Britain can be briefly summarized as follows. In the summer of 1945, President Truman made the first step towards ending the decades-long U.S. practice of deferring to British policy-makers on Palestine when he called for the admission to Palestine of 100,000 Jewish refugees from the displaced persons (DP) camps of Europe. This terminated the 1943 agreement whereby "Britain agreed not to question U.S. immigration quotas, in return for which the Americans would not challenge Britain's immigration policy in Palestine." In early 1946, an Anglo-American Committee of Inquiry was established to bridge the growing policy gap. U.S.-British divergence nevertheless continued, and in October of that year, Truman endorsed the demand for Jewish statehood over British objections. (Nachmani, 2 & 256)
A complicated set of factors contributed to shaping British and U.S. policy on Palestine during this period. British planners, for their part, understood that the Middle East was "a vital prize for any power interested in world influence or domination," and were committed to maintaining a quasi-colonial presence in the countries they had effectively cheated of independence following World War I. (Curtis, 20) But throughout the region, movements for independence and social reform were threatening to destabilize the established political order. Under these circumstances, Britain sought to disassociate itself from a political Zionist movement which had proved to be a thoroughly unreliable client, and which provoked hostility across the region.
Predictably, British policy-makers held that this policy extended from their commitment to democratic principles. So it was that foreign minister Ernest Bevin, speaking in 1945, explained his government's opposition to Jewish statehood as follows:
"I do not believe in absolutely exclusive racial states ... you might as well try to do that in England with the Welshmen and the Scotsmen or, what is worse, try to make Glasgow completely Scotch and see how you get on, or Cardiff completely Welsh. It is impossible."(Nachmani, 47)
Possible or not, British support for political Zionism would have made it even more difficult for Arab client regimes to associate themselves with British power. In either event, as Prime Minister Atlee observed, British Middle East policy "shall constantly appear to be supporting vested interests and reaction against reform and revolution in the interests of the poor."(Curtis, 19) In order to defend its influence and investments, this was, after all, exactly what Britain was doing. To meanwhile help to rip a whole country away from its indigenous population did not seem prudent for a major power hoping to embark on a more sustained, strategic squeeze of the region's wealth. Britain therefore hoped to produce some kind of negotiated settlement.
Some U.S. planners shared this strategic perspective. When the U.S. broke with Britain to endorse the partition of Palestine, George Kennan lamented U.S. support for "the extreme objectives of political Zionism," as a result of which he asserted "U.S. prestige in the Moslem world has suffered a severe blow and U.S. strategic interests in the Mediterranean and Near East have been seriously prejudiced."(552-3) Indeed, it is along much the same lines (and with reference to Kennan's early concerns) that the U.S. scholars John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt have recently made public criticisms of U.S. Israel/Palestine policy.
Notwithstanding this, there are many possible reasons for the trend towards U.S. support for political Zionist objectives. Some of these were removed from the specific Middle Eastern context. In Europe, notably, the aftermath of World War II had left many Jewish survivors of the Nazi holocaust torn from their homes, living in terrible conditions in various DP camps. Countries like the United States and Canada had prohibited any significant Jewish immigration during the period of escalating European anti-Semitism and systematic slaughter. A return of Jewish refugees to their countries of origin, the sites of wartime trauma and pervasive anti-Semitism, was not always practical. With Western states still reluctant to absorb prospective immigrants into their own societies, resettlement in Palestine seemed to offer a possible alternative.
Domestic political factors were also at work. In the United States, a well-organized Zionist movement was pressing hard for admission of Jews to Palestine, while maintaining an (at best) ambivalent attitude towards U.S. immigration quotas. The Truman administration faced additional pressure from military authorities in Europe and from the U.S. Treasury, which were eager to somehow reduce the costs of maintaining the many DP camps in areas of Europe under U.S. control. (Elazar, 54; Chomsky, 93; Nachmani, 258)
However, strategic calculations regarding the Middle East could not have been brushed aside entirely. At the time, the United States was embarking on an extremely forceful push into the Middle East. By 1946, this campaign even involved threats to deploy nuclear weapons against Iran as a demonstration of the U.S. commitment to exclude Soviet influence from the region - see Daniel Axelrod and Michio Kaku's To Win a Nuclear War (South End Press, 1987) for details. Under these circumstances, Kennan may have considered alignment with Zionist aims to be a serious political liability. It is true that U.S. policy on Palestine was not entirely shaped by regionally-focused strategy; the factors described above, and the additional force of U.S. ideological affinity with the fight for Israel, were also at work. But it is also the case that not all U.S. planners agreed that the strategic costs of limited alignment with the political Zionist movement outweighed the benefits.
For its part, the political Zionist leadership, well-acquainted with the intricacies of imperial sponsorship, did its best to influence U.S. geopolitical thinking to its advantage. It was likely with this over-riding aim that the "Jewish Resistance Movement" - a short-lived alliance of the Zionist paramilitary Irgun, Stern Gang and Hagana - approached the 1946 Anglo-American Committee of Inquiry. The memorandum they submitted "discussed the future security of the country and adjacent states, and stressed that a Jewish state, equipped with appropriate weaponry, could militarily and politically ‘contribute our humble share' to the strategic interests of the Anglo-Americans in the Middle East and defend Christian and other minorities while policing the area. This could be done without the help of a ‘single American soldier.'"(Nachmani, 114)
The Israeli analyst Amicam Nachmani argues that this proposal was not taken very seriously at first, but that the circumstances of Anglo-American tension eventually raised its profile within U.S. strategic discussions. Nachmani summarizes "the overall aims and aspirations" of the United States in the Middle East as "the improvement of American commercial and strategic interests which, ipso facto, implied the undermining of British supremacy in the area, and the achievement of this through a form of ‘remote control,' that is, not getting involved militarily." Nachmani continues: "At first the Americans assumed that the British would continue to police the area, and that Britain could be ‘trained' to operate in Palestine in accordance with American interests." However, when faced with "Britain's reluctance to police the Middle East for America, ... a willing Zionist client replaced a reluctant Britain as America's policeman, and from the autumn of 1946, the United States gave its support to Jewish statehood."(40-41 & 273)
Whatever accounts for the divergence between U.S. and British policy regarding the conflict over Palestine, it was an unavoidable fact. It was under these circumstances that, in February 1947, Britain turned the issue over to the United Nations. Thereafter, Canada became directly involved in the diplomatic component of the conflict. And it was in connection with the alliance politics outlined above, with the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) just in formation, that Canadian policy was determined.
Strengthening the Diplomatic Alibi: Canada and UN Partition
"In a book he wrote in the early 1950s on the establishment of the state of Israel, David Horowitz, the first director-general of Israel's ministry of finance and the founder and first governor of the Bank of Israel, stated: ‘It may be said that Canada, more than any other country, played a decisive part in all stages of the U.N.O. discussions on Palestine.'" It is with this passage that Eliezer Tauber, Chair of the Department of Middle East History at Bar Ilan University, begins his own work regarding the significance of Canadian diplomacy during the decisive period of the struggle for Zionist statehood. There is good reason to suspect that Tauber's work tends to overstate the case. But Canadian diplomats were no doubt heavily involved in the process which was widely interpreted (if inaccurately) as authorizing the creation of a Zionist state.
From the beginning of UN deliberations regarding the Palestine question, Canadian diplomats participated in the proceedings. Shortly after the British brought the issue to the UN for discussion in early 1947, the General Assembly met in Special Session. The head of the Canadian delegation, Lester B. Pearson - then under-secretary of state for External Affairs, having just concluded a term as Canadian ambassador to the United States - was elected to chair the First Committee on Palestine, charged with developing the terms of reference for a Special Committee that would develop proposals for a political settlement. Canada was then one of the eleven countries on what became the United Nations Special Committee on Palestine (UNSCOP), represented by Supreme Court Justice Ivan Rand. (Rand was appointed to deliberate on this issue without detailed instructions from the Canadian government, so that his decision would not formally bind government policy.)
Tauber credits Rand with decisive influence over UNSCOP, wielded when possible towards the expansion of the proposed borders for a Jewish state, and carrying the prestige of Commonwealth association. "It was precisely Rand," Tauber argues, "representing a British dominion and not publicly identified as a pro-Zionist, although he definitely was, who was in a position to consolidate UNSCOP's majority in favour of partition."(115) As mentioned, Tauber's insistence on Canadian significance during this period sometimes drifts towards hyperbole. But the essential points made here - that Rand helped to formulate and then endorsed the majority UNSCOP proposal calling for partition, and that his Commonwealth affiliation gave this added diplomatic significance given Britain's opposition to the plan - are beyond any real controversy.
David Bercuson has convincingly argued that, in contrast to the situation in the United States, public advocacy and lobbying by Canadian Zionists had little impact on government policy during this period. Still, in late 1946, Zionist advocates did approach the government to argue that Canada should fulfill "the traditional role of interpreter between the two countries," and try to "secure fuller sympathy in the United Kingdom for the proposals made by President Truman". By themselves, these appeals had little impact. But the essential argument upon which they relied - summarized by David Bercuson as the "suggestion that Canada was tailor made to play ‘honest broker' over Palestine, not between Arab and Jew, but between the United States and the United Kingdom" - did anticipate the Canadian role in the events that followed. ('85, 36 & 51; and Bercuson's focused article of 1989)
Once finalized, the UNSCOP proposals were turned to the General Assembly, which established a somewhat broader Ad Hoc Committee on the Palestinian Question to discuss, consider and rework them. Once again, Canada was represented. In this Committee, Walid Khalidi explains, the very terms of debate regarding partition were hotly contested: "The Arab delegations requested that before a decision be taken, the International Court of Justice be asked for its opinion on the following subjects: (a) whether or not Palestine was included in the Arab territories that had been promised independence by Britain at the end of World War I; (b) whether partition was consistent with the objectives and provisions of the [British] mandate; (c) whether partition was consistent with the principles of the UN Charter; (d) whether its adoption and forcible execution were within the competence or jurisdiction of the UN; and (e) whether it lay within the power of any UN member or group of members to implement partition without the consent of the majority of the people living within the country. The voting on the issue of UN competence to partition Palestine - a combination of (d) and (e) - is particularly instructive. The draft counter resolution that said that the UN did have the authority was carried by only 21 votes to 20 in the Ad Hoc Committee." The Jewish Agency delegation was "horrified by the idea" of such ICJ involvement, Tauber writes, and Canada joined in opposing consideration of these questions by the international court. (Khalidi '07, 102; Tauber, 29 & 54)
The Canadian delegation to the United Nations did not operate without misgivings. When Canadian Justice Minister James Ilsley was presented with the first declaration of Canada's support for partition to be put forward in the Ad Hoc Committee, he expressed concern that it did not sufficiently answer "the very strong moral and political claims" of indigenous Palestinians, "in spite of the fact that we are making a decision essentially against their interests."(Tauber, 89-90) But in the final count, Canadian policy stayed on this course.
When the General Assembly met in plenary session to debate what became Resolution 181, Canadian policy came up for direct criticism. Tauber recounts: "Zafrullah Khan of Pakistan delivered an impassioned speech questioning the sincerity of the humanitarian motives of the partition supporters. ‘Those who talk of humanitarian principles, and can afford to do most, have done the least at their own expense to alleviate [the European Jewish refugee crisis]. But they are ready - indeed they are anxious - to be most generous at the expense of the Arab.' Australia, Canada and the United States were opposed to returning the Jewish displaced persons to their countries of origin. But were they ready to absorb them themselves? ‘Australia, an over-populated small country with congested areas, says no, no, no; Canada, equally congested and over-populated, says no; the United States, a great humanitarian country, a small country, with small resources, says no.' This was their contribution to the humanitarian principle, while stating at the same time: ‘let them go to Palestine, where there are vast areas, a large economy and no trouble; they can easily be taken in there.'"(60)
Canada subsequently voted for the motion. It passed by the necessary two-thirds majority with the help of a campaign of U.S. pressure on UN member states which has since remained the subject of heated controversy.(eg. Kennan, 548; Bercuson '85, 31)
One could justifiably argue that UN Resolution 181 was never implemented; that the Plan of Partition with Economic Union did not authorize forced population transfer, expropriation of lands or property, or expansion of proposed borders by means of force. This is correct. But it did provide a diplomatic alibi which the political Zionist leadership relied upon in pursuing this set of policies.
Had Canadian diplomats wished to disassociate themselves from the twisted meaning which was projected upon a plan they had helped to formulate and then endorsed, they would have had ample opportunity. For two years beginning in January 1948, Canada was represented as a non-permanent member of the Security Council.
Instead, with the disaster facing indigenous Palestinians clear to anyone watching, Canadian representatives argued for UN recognition of Israel in its expanded borders, and helped to sustain this state of affairs by presenting it as a fait accompli. Canada's leading allies were at odds. "Since there was no chance at all that the United States would be won over to Britain," as David Bercuson puts it, "it was clear that the British would have to be dragged over to the United States and that Canada had a definite national interest in helping to do the dragging." (217)
By carrying out this function, Canada gained for itself an added measure of responsibility for the conflict that has ensued.
Traditional Allies and Destructive Policies: Canada's Interaction with the Ongoing Conflict in Israel/Palestine
In the 1984 essay cited above, Eqbal Ahmad goes on to stress the enduring, if not growing, importance of the Israel-Palestine conflict in the Middle East:
"To anyone who is willing to see, it should be clear that Israel and the United States are together engaged in shaping the future of the region from Pakistan to Morocco ... Thus the question of Palestine, to which has now been added the question of Lebanon, transcends the question of Palestinians' right to peace and self-determination, fundamentally important as it is." (302)
In the six decades since 1948, the Israeli state has indeed successfully established itself not only as the governing force in all of historic Palestine, but also as a cornerstone of Western opposition to the genuine decolonization of the Middle East more generally. Where its actions and international relations have produced tensions amongst Canada's main allies, the Canadian state has sought to mediate within and work to stabilize the U.S.-led alliance. This was particularly relevant in the early years, most of all in the aftermath of the clumsy (yet still quite destructive) assault on Egypt mounted by Israel, France and Britain in 1956. At the same time, Canadian-Israeli trade and diplomatic ties multiplied and tightened.
But things have shifted since 1956, and especially since the Israeli conquests of 1967 - a major blow to regional independence movements which brought neocolonial occupation to the remainder of mandate Palestine (the West Bank and Gaza), as well as to the Syrian Golan Heights and Egyptian Sinai. In subsequent years, serious tension between U.S. power and an Israeli state ever-more heavily armed and financed by it has been rare. Britain, for its part, had to evacuate its military bases from the region in 1971, and solidly resigned itself to "junior partner" status. In the coming decades, with U.S. dominance increasingly unchallenged, Western states undertook few policy initiatives in the region independently of the United States. The role of "broker" no longer counted for much.
In pursuing its determined effort to dominate the Middle East, U.S. policy has since put massive resources into a deep and wide-ranging alliance with the Israeli state. Noam Chomsky's The Fateful Triangle and Jonathan Cook's Israel and the Clash of Civilizations provide highly complementary accounts of this subject. Though the role of inter-imperial interlocutor was mostly obsolete, the Canadian establishment worked to maintain the friendliest possible relations with the evolving U.S.-led alliance.
The Canadian government, willing to endorse U.S.-run massacres from Vietnam to East Timor (see Justin's Podur's "Canada for Anti-Imperialists"), therefore approached Israeli atrocities with patience and understanding. The growing international prominence of the Palestinian national movement, and the broad diplomatic support it received at the United Nations (thanks mostly to the former colonies of Africa and Asia), left Canadian decision-makers unfazed. In 1973 the Canadian government finally, for the first time, recognized the existence of a distinct Palestinian Arab social grouping. Still, Canada didn't even keep up with the poor record of the European Community. By 1980, the EC at least nominally endorsed the right of the Palestinian people to self-determination. As late as September 1987, the Canadian delegation to the Francophonie declined to do so, alone among 41 member states in its stubborn refusal.(Kirton & Lyon, 191)
Dominant Canadian Jewish organizations meanwhile established a poor record of their own.
Thanks in part to the post-1948 intervention of David Ben-Gurion in North American Jewish politics, the fundraiser-dominated Federation system embraced and came to dominate Israel advocacy work, taking over from traditional Zionist parties. It thereafter managed to impose Israel advocacy politics on the organized community at large. The leading Canadian Jewish organizations thus struck a formal association with the Israeli state. In 1965, the Detroit industrialist Max Fisher informed the annual meeting of the North American Council of Jewish Federations (CJF) in Montreal of ongoing negotiations with the Jewish Agency. In the next few years, a formula was established for the direct participation of Keren Hayesod bodies and the CJF in Jewish Agency structures. Shamelessly, the upbeat 10-year review of this process took place in the first area of Palestine subject to proactive expulsions in 1948. The progress review then bore this region's name: Caesarea. (Canadians have since been directly represented in the JA structure through those organizations presently constituted as the UIAFC).
The international setting of the Israel-Palestine conflict has since brought Canada into even deeper alliance with Israel. In 1991, the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq accelerated the reversal of decolonization processes in the Middle East, a trend already apparent for many years. This cleared the way for what Mark Curtis rightly described as the open "rehabilitation of colonialism and imperialism."(205) Among the results of the disastrous Middle-Eastern power imbalance that followed was the Oslo process, which evolved into a complete farce in which Canada dutifully played its part. Over the course of the 1990s, the half-promises of eventual Palestinian autonomy in a truncated West Bank/Gaza state were exposed as outright fraud. The Canadian government, happy to consolidate the deteriorating situation, then established a free trade pact with Israel, refusing even a token agreement with the Palestinian Authority amidst concerns that it might lend it "the aura of statehood."
For a time, though, certain international hopes in some sort of peace deal were staked in the Oslo process. If reality had ever supported even limited hopes, it ceased to as the 1990s wore on. Then, in 2000, a new uprising was initiated by Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza fed up with unending Israeli military occupation and expanding settlement. Observing the massive Israeli violence employed to repress the rebellion, Canadian diplomats at first expressed mixed reactions. But before long, Israel-Palestine came to be viewed as a central theatre of the "war on terror," a campaign which would guide the U.S.-led alliance, with Israel positioned at its forefront. Canadian alignment with Israel again sharpened.
It is under these circumstances that we have witnessed the regression of Canadian policy in recent years towards outright rejection of Palestinian rights to political self-representation, perhaps even survival. When Prime Minister Stephen Harper was engaged in providing crude support for the Israeli massacre of Palestinians and Lebanese in the summer of 2006, he situated his government's policies in precisely this context.
For the Harper Conservatives, Globe and Mail columnist John Ibbitson then explained, Canadian foreign policy must be guided by an overriding commitment to "strong solidarity with our traditional allies - not just the United States, but Britain and Australia, NATO and Israel." Harper made the point clearly himself when, on his way to the July G-8 meeting in St. Petersburg (with the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in full swing), he "stopped in London to visit with the Queen, Tony Blair and Lady Thatcher." There, he gave a solid indication of why his government might endorse colonial wars. Ibbitson reported:
"It is unfashionable, Mr. Harper acknowledged, to speak of colonial legacies as anything other than oppressive. ‘But in the Canadian context, the actions of the British Empire were largely benign and occasionally brilliant.' British magnanimity, he argued, ensured the survival of French culture. British approaches to the aboriginal population, ‘while far from perfect, were some of the fairest and most generous of the period.'"
Today, he continued, "the English-speaking peoples are on the front lines in the global war against terror," which is therefore Canada's fight. This might come off as a retrograde approach to international affairs. "But for Stephen Harper," Ibbitson explained, "Canada's interests today are fundamentally no different than they were in 1960, or 1940 or 1920."
"‘Canada's new national government is absolutely determined, once again, to stand shoulder to shoulder with our British allies,' the Prime Minister affirmed, ‘to stay the course and to win the fight.' And he ended his speech: ‘God bless Canada, and God save the Queen.'" (Ibbitson, July 27 & Aug. 18/'06)
As many of us commemorate the events of 1948 with sadness or anger, it will hardly be surprising if Canadian officials such as these join in celebrating them. True, the crimes then committed were a great injustice. But those who today celebrate this injustice are direct successors to those who helped to carry it out in the first place, and they are, moreover, the same people who provide support for the continuing assault on the Palestinian people up to the present.
There is good reason to try and change this ugly record. Canadian complicity in the colonization of Palestine is, as UIAFC affiliates so often argue (in their own way), connected to a much broader Canadian history. The need for a serious, sustained effort to overcome this history is paramount - to halt the ongoing regression of Canadian society towards traditional colonial patterns, and to challenge the state's destructive international role.
On the 60th anniversary of the ethnic cleansing of 1948, the question of Palestine requires special attention as part of this fight.
Dan can be contacted at email@example.com.
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