In sudden switch, Canada backs pro-Palestine UN resolution

After decade of voting no, Ottawa now wants to reiterate commitment to two-state solution and ‘equal rights and self-determination of all peoples’; Israel ‘very disappointed’

Raphael Ahren is a former diplomatic correspondent at The Times of Israel.

Liberal supporters react as they watch results roll in at Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's election night headquarters on October 21, 2019, in Montreal, Canada. (Cole Burston/Getty Images/AFP)
Liberal supporters react as they watch results roll in at Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's election night headquarters on October 21, 2019, in Montreal, Canada. (Cole Burston/Getty Images/AFP)

Canada on Tuesday supported a United Nations resolution calling for the establishment of a Palestinian state, in an unexpected move that led Israeli officials and Canadian supporters of the Jewish state to express disappointment and concern over what they said said was a possible indication of a pivot from Ottawa’s decade-long pro-Israel voting pattern.

Canada joined 165 other nations by voting yes on the resolution entitled “The right of the Palestinian people to self-determination” at the UN General Assembly’s Third Committee.

Over the last decade, both Liberal and Conservative Canadian governments have annually voted against the resolution, which, among other things, urges an “end to the Israeli occupation” and calls for the preservation of the “territorial unity, contiguity and integrity of all of the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem.”

Sponsored by North Korea, Egypt, Nicaragua, Zimbabwe and Palestine, Resolution A/C.3/74/L.58 also recognized the Palestinian people’s right to an independent state and urges the international community to “support and assist the Palestinian people in the early realization of their right to self-determination.”

Only Israel, the US, Nauru, Micronesia and the Marshall Islands voted against the resolution; nine countries, including Australia, Guatemala and Rwanda, abstained.

View of the United Nations General Assembly during a vote the US-imposed on Cuba on November 7, 2019. (Evan Schneider/ UN)

“Canada is committed to the goal of a comprehensive, just and lasting peace in the Middle East, including the creation of a Palestinian state living side by side in peace and security with Israel,” Krystyna Dodds, a spokesperson for the Canadian foreign ministry, told The Times of Israel when asked for the reason for Ottawa’s sudden switch from no to yes.

“In keeping with Canada’s longstanding position, it is important at this time to reiterate our commitment to a two-state solution and the equal rights and self-determination of all peoples,” she added. “At a time when it is increasingly under threat, it is important for Canada to underscore our firm commitment to a two-state solution.”

At the same time, she stressed, “Canada maintains our strong opposition to the singling out of Israel for opprobrium at the UN, and has voted against the vast majority of these yearly Israel-related votes.”

The Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem declined to comment on Canada’s support for the Resolution A/C.3/74/L.58.

“We are very disappointed by Canada’s vote,” said one Israeli diplomatic official, speaking on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the matter. “Israel and Canada are friends and our relations are close and strong. We hope it will continue this way.”

The official welcomed the appointment Tuesday of Francois-Philippe Champagne as Canada’s new foreign minister. Champagne, who is replacing Chrystia Freeland as the country’s top diplomat, is considered a strong supporter of Israel.

President Reuven Rivlin, left, with Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, right, April 1, 2019. (Mark Neiman/GPO)

“The foreign office establishment in Ottawa always fought the vote changes in favor of Israel that began under [former Liberal prime minister Paul Martin] between 2003 and 2006, and then significantly accelerated under [Conservative] prime minister Stephen Harper from 2006 to 2015,” said Hillel Neuer, a Canadian citizen who heads the Geneva-based watchdog UN Watch.

“Prime Minister Justin Trudeau merely maintained the staunch pro-Israel record that Harper established at the UN General Assembly.”

Ottawa’s vote shift this week is likely motivated by the local “foreign policy establishment’s ideology and realpolitik,” posited Neuer.

“The foreign ministry bureaucrats are more pro-Palestinian,” he told The Times of Israel. Canadian diplomats want to join their European colleagues who routinely support General Assembly resolutions critical of Israel, he added.

“In addition — and this is important — the same establishment is vying for a UN Security Council seat, and it’s understood that you win this prize by bribing Arab and Muslim nations with votes against Israel,” Neuer went on.

Canada is hoping to be elected by the General Assembly for a two-year term starting in 2021.

The Center for Israel and Jewish Affairs, or CIJA, accused Trudeau of joining “with the anti-Israel chorus at the UN.”

Hillel Neuer of UN Watch (photo credit: Michal Fattal/Flash 90)
Hillel Neuer (Michal Fattal/Flash 90)

In a press release, the advocacy group said Canada’s support for the pro-Palestine resolution “represents a dramatic departure from a 10-year record of principled opposition to UN resolutions that single out Israel for condemnation and ignore Palestinian intransigence and provocations aimed at sabotaging efforts to advance peace and reconciliation.”

CIJA co-chair Joel Reitman said he was very disappointed that Ottawa failed to “stand firm in opposition to the annual Israel-bashing ritual at the UN General Assembly.”

That the resolution failed to acknowledge the “obscene barrage of Palestinian-launched rockets and missiles raining down on Israel’s civilian population reflects just how distorted and one-sided these resolutions are,” he said.

His co-chair Jeffrey Rosenthal said Tuesday’s yes vote on a resolution referring to the “Occupied Palestinian Territories” was a “distressing departure not only from the Canadian voting record at the UN, but a betrayal of longstanding Canadian foreign policy that rejects prejudgment of the outcome of negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians.”

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