Canada will strive for a more balanced policy regarding the Middle East, including active outreach to the Arab world, the country’s new foreign minister said Wednesday.
“Israel is a friend, it is an ally but for us to be an effective ally we need also to strengthen our relationship with the other legitimate partners in the region,” Stéphane Dion said in an interview hours after being sworn in. “For example, we need to strengthen our relationship with Lebanon and this will help Lebanon but also Israel. To be helpful, you need to strengthen your relationship with the other legitimate partners and that is what we will do.”
Ottawa strives to be more balanced, “more open” and more “efficient” in its foreign policy, he told Radio Canada in a separate interview. Siding with Israel only, as the previous governments under prime minister Stephen Harper did, is ultimately in nobody’s interest, he argued.
“We can say the things Israel wants to hear but to helpful to Israel we also need to be helpful to other states in the region, to Lebanon among others, with which he should establish excellent relations,” he said.
Preventing states surrounding Israel from becoming completely dysfunctional like Syria will ultimately be beneficial to all parties, he indicated.
Ottawa will strive to become an honest broker in the Middle East and seek to avoid turning Israel into a partisan issue, Dion said.
On October 19, the Liberal Party under Justin Trudeau won the national elections, replacing Harper’s Conservatives, who had ruled the country for nearly a decade. The various Harper administrations were among Israel’s staunchest supporters on the international stage. Trudeau is considered a friend of Israel as well, but widely expected to adopt a more balanced approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, not shying away, for instance, from criticizing Jerusalem’s settlement policies.
In a telephone conversation between Trudeau and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu last week, the new Canadian leader “explained there would be a shift in tone, but said Canada would continue to be a friend of Israel’s,” Trudeau’s spokesperson said.
Dion, a veteran politician whose previous roles included head of the opposition and environment minister, is known as sympathetic to the Jewish state.
“On Israel, Dion is indeed a friend,” said Gerald Steinberg, a political science professor at Bar-Ilan University and longtime observer of Canadian politics. “But he will also be influenced by less friendly voices.”