Canada’s relationship to Palestine: two seldom-mentioned issues

Canada’s prime minister, Stephen Harper, is in the Middle East right now—he met recently with Israeli elected officials, and Mahmoud Abbas, the leader of the Palestinian Authority. This morning I read a news article in the Calgary Herald about Canada’s relationship with Israel and Palestine, and I noticed that a couple of crucial issues are omitted from the piece—indeed, commonly omitted from news articles in the Western MSM in general. But we need to be aware of them if we’re to have a properly informed conversation on the issues confronting the region.

Issue # 1: Mahmoud Abbas is technically still President of the Palestinian Authority (PA), but his term in office expired in 2009. In 2005, he was elected to head the PA as a member of the political organization Fatah. In 2009, amid conflict between rival political factions Fatah and Hamas, Abbas unilaterally decided to extend his term in office, purportedly to arrange for parliamentary and presidential elections which have not since taken place. Abbas has continued to head the PA, and preside over the West Bank, ever since. Hamas accordingly refuses to recognize him as the legitimate leader of the PA.

Issue # 2: Prime Minister Harper has pledged an additional $66 million in aid to the PA, but it is misleading to state (as many members of the Western press do) that this aid is earmarked for “the Palestinians.” Instead, Canadian aid to the PA is largely devoted to the maintenance of Israeli security—which accounts for why the Israeli government urged Canada to continue its Palestine aid program when Abbas advanced a bid for Palestinian statehood in 2011. (The Harper government had apparently contemplated severing financial support for the PA in retaliation for the statehood bid.)

One of the foremost objectives of Canadian aid for the PA is the establishment of a security force in the West Bank that is both complicit in settlement activity, and active in quelling popular dissent among the restive West Bank Palestinian population. Canada has also deployed soldiers, RCMP and various other state officials to the West Bank, as part of Operation PROTEUS , which has absorbed most of the foreign aid funding the Harper government has pledged to the PA since 2008. Israel’s government worries that Hamas, a more recalcitrant entity (from Israel’s perspective) than Abbas’s PA, will become an outlet for the political grievances of the West Bank population, as it was for the people of Gaza when elections were held there in 2006. Canada’s government has played a key role in assuaging those worries, by maintaining the already over-extended mandate of Abbas’s PA in the West Bank, through repression and militarization if necessary.

Though Harper has yet to elaborate on the intended targets of the new aid he has pledged to fund “economic development” in the West Bank, there is plenty of reason to regard such promises from our government with skepticism—something our MSM often fail to do.

For more information, see this piece in the Huffington Post from author and activist Yves Engler, who has undertaken important watchdog research on Operation PROTEUS and the destiny of Canada’s foreign aid for Palestine.

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