Canada will provide $66 million in economic aid to the Palestinians, in order to help foster “peace and stability” in the region, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper said Monday.
The announcement came hours before Harper was scheduled to speak in front of the Israeli Knesset.
Speaking during a visit to the West Bank Palestinian city of Ramallah, Harper stressed that his country strongly supports the establishment of a future Palestinian state, and said the aid provided by Canada would assist in creating a more secure and just Palestinian society.
“Canada looks forward to a bright future for all Palestinians, one in which security and prosperity are enjoyed in a viable and democratic Palestinian state,” Harper said after a meeting with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.
“The support we are providing today will advance those goals by furthering the peace process, generating jobs and economic growth through private sector partnerships, and helping to further advance security and justice sector reforms.”
The aid announced by Harper in Ramallah, as well as an additional $30 million allocated for the West Bank and Gaza last year, will be provided to the Palestinians over a three- to five-year period, the Vancouver Sun reported.
Since the Oslo peace accords were signed in 1993, Canada provided more than $650 million in assistance to the Palestinian Authority. Close to half of the said funds were transferred over the past five years.
Under Harper, Canada has been seen as one of Israel’s staunchest allies, backing the Jewish state at the United Nations and working to isolate Iran. But in Ramallah, Harper insisted that his government did not intentionally favor Israel, and said his country’s policy was free of outside influence.
“Canada is a strong supporter of the peace process,” Harper said.
“Our position is not an Israeli position or a Palestinian position; it is a Canadian position of principle supported by the overwhelming majority of Canadians. While Canada has its views, a settlement ultimately has to be decided through negotiations between the two parties.”
Following a barrage of questions from journalists over his views on the legality of Jewish settlements in the West Bank, Harper shied away from voicing criticism of Israeli policy, and instead emphasized that his government’s position on the matter was “well known.”
“You won’t be surprised by my answer, which is to be very clear to you that any attempt to have me, while present in the Middle East, single out the state of Israel for criticism, I will not do. And I’ve been very clear on that in the past,” he said.
Although the official website for Canada’s Foreign Affairs department refers to land across the 1967 armistice line as occupied, Harper has been reluctant to explicitly state whether his government still holds the same opinion.
Harper, who arrived in Israel Sunday for his first official visit since taking office, has garnered much praise from Israeli leaders for his support of the Jewish state and for standing up against anti-Semitism.
“This world is often cynical and hypocritical, and you have shown great moral leadership,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said upon Harper’s arrival.
“When it comes to fighting terrorism, you know that there cannot be any politically correct double-talk, but only unequivocal condemnation and united international action.”
Ever since his election, Harper, a Conservative prime minister, has been a full-throated, unapologetic supporter of Israeli policies, and has sided with the Jewish state’s official position on a number of key issues.
Harper was the first Western leader to cut aid to the Palestinian Authority following Hamas’s seizure that year of power in Gaza, and the first to withdraw from the second UN World Conference Against Racism, known as Durban II, saying the event would “scapegoat the Jewish people.”
In November 2012, Canada opposed Palestine’s elevation to the status of nonmember state in a UN General Assembly vote, one of only nine countries to do so.
Canada has sided openly with Israel in every one of its military operations since 2006. Earlier this month Harper appointed Vivian Bercovici, a Toronto lawyer and an outspoken Israel supporter, as Canada’s ambassador to Israel.
Spencer Ho, Stuart Winer and JTA contributed to this report