Canadian Foreign Minister John Baird traveled to Ramallah Sunday to meet with Palestinian Authority Foreign Minister Riyad Maliki. After the meeting, as Baird left the city, dozens of Palestinian protesters pelted his convoy with eggs and shoes.
The protesters held aloft signs reading: “Baird you are not welcome in Palestine” and “Baird, Jerusalem is our capital.”
Activists from Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah party earlier had called for a boycott of Baird because of Canada’s Middle East policies. “This person backs up the Zionist movement,” protester Abdullah Abu-Rahmeh said. “This person diminishes the rights of our people, takes part and backs up building of settlements. We tell him that he’s not welcome.”
Baird said after the meeting with Maliki that he had asked the Palestinians to refrain from diplomatic moves that would make reaching an agreement with Israel even more difficult.
“I asked that the minister strongly reconsider the consequences of moving forward with any action that may be counterproductive to a negotiated solution with the State of Israel,” he said, in an apparent reference to a Palestinian request for the International Criminal Court to investigate Israel over alleged war crimes during last summer’s conflict in the Gaza Strip.
“Minister Maliki and I held cordial and constructive talks today in the West Bank, discussing key regional issues, as well as the Middle East Peace Process,” he said.
Last Friday the ICC opened a preliminary investigation into the Gaza conflict, during which some 2,200 Palestinian were killed, according to Gazan figures. Israel maintains that at least half of those were combatants and that the high number of civilian casualties was due to Hamas tactics. Israeli casualties included 66 IDF soldiers and six civilians.
The probe, however, may also pave the way for Palestinians to be prosecuted for war crimes.
Later in the day Baird met with in Jerusalem with Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman, who told Baird that the ICC probe was unjustified.
“It’s inconceivable that a terror organization is lodging a criminal petition against Israel,” he said. “Hamas used their own civilians as human shields while it fired rockets at Israel. The Palestinian Authority is making a mockery of International law.”
Baird reiterated his position on the ICC decision in a meeting with Israeli President Reuven Rivlin. “The decision by the prosecutor is deeply ironic, awards terror, and amounts to blasphemy against international law,” Baird said. “In the current situation, terrorist organizations are not held accountable, and have a win-win situation — whether by terrorizing Israel’s citizens, or making claims against Israel when it defends its citizens. It is for the international law to clarify what a state can do in order to defend its people from terrorism.”
Baird is in the region for five days of meetings with Israeli and Palestinian officials.
Activists from PA President Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah party had earlier called for a boycott of Baird because of Canada’s perceived pro-Israel stance. Baird nevertheless reported the meeting with Mailki was productive.
Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat demanded that the Canadian government apologize for backing Israel and its “apartheid policies” and for preventing the Palestinian people from achieving statehood. He also called on Arab countries to foil Canadian diplomacy.
“The Palestinian people as well as the rest of the Arab and Muslim countries deserve an apology from the Canadian government for years of systematic attempts at blocking the right of the Palestinian people to a state of their own,” Erakat said in a statement.
“We regret the Canadian government’s decision to stand on the wrong side of history by blindly supporting the Israeli occupation and its apartheid policies,” he declared. “Canadian FM John Baird has contributed to Israeli violations of Palestinian inalienable rights, including our right to self-determination, by systematically lobbying against all Palestinian diplomatic initiatives.”
Baird has in the past voiced strong support for Israel’s right to defend itself and has called for the demilitarization of the Gaza Strip. Recently he urged the European Union to reverse a decision to remove Hamas from its list of terror groups.