The Palestinian Authority is up in arms over a cup of coffee consumed by Canada’s foreign affairs minister, John Baird. He was in the Middle East last week and made the requisite pilgrimage to Ramallah to give PA President Mahmoud Abbas a photo opportunity as well as a chance to beg yet another Western leader for more cash to keep his sinking ship afloat. But whatever success Abbas and company may have had in hitting up the Canadians for more money to squander is being overshadowed by their rage for Baird’s decision to meet with Israeli Justice Minister Tzipi Livni in the Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah. Since it was located over the green line in the part of the city that was illegally occupied by Jordan from 1949 to 1967 prior to Jerusalem’s unification, the Palestinians consider this a violation of international law. In consequence of this protest, Baird received a stern letter from the PA and a Canadian diplomat was summoned for another meeting in Ramallah where, after the scolding is finished, the Palestinians would, no doubt, have another chance to talk about more cash to spread around in no-show and no-work patronage jobs that enable the Fatah Party to maintain its hold on the area.
Left-wing Canadian politicians are also using the incident to lambast Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s Conservative government, but no one in Ottawa should be trembling at the thought of offending Abbas. Though the Canadians say the meeting shouldn’t be construed as a change in policy, the get-together exposes the lie at the heart of so much of international comment about Israel’s capital. For decades the world has adhered to the fiction that Jerusalem is not Israel’s capital and kept embassies in Tel Aviv so as to avoid giving the impression that it recognizes the reality that the ancient city is part of the Jewish state. But the world did not end when Baird sipped coffee with Livni. Nor did it further complicate the already moribund peace negotiations. All that happened is that the beggar of international politics got mad at one of their benefactors.
Even before this incident, Harper’s government has repeatedly demonstrated its friendship for Israel with warmth that often exceeds that of the relationship between Israel and the United States. While the importance of its alliance with the world’s sole superpower cannot be compared to the one with its far less populous neighbor, the Canadians’ decision to buck conventional wisdom on Jerusalem and other issues is more than refreshing. It shows that the impact on peace or regional stability of doing things that do not adhere to the Palestinian line is negligible.
Meeting with Israelis in Jerusalem or even moving an embassy there wouldn’t prevent peace, were it possible. But it does deliver a body blow to the Palestinian delusion that if they just keep denying reality long enough, the rest of the world will force the Israelis to abandon their capital.
That’s a point the U.S. should consider when it panders to the Palestinians on Jerusalem. Even though everyone in Washington from President Obama on down knows that Israel will never return to the 1967 lines in the city, they have gone along with the myth that Israel’s government does not reside in the capital.
That this dispute should come up in the very week that Abbas and his cronies have finally rid themselves of the one Palestinian that the West trusts with their donations to the PA is telling. The resignation of PA Prime Minister Salam Fayyad pleases both Abbas’s Fatah and Hamas since his focus on development and honest governance was a problem for the corrupt agenda of the former and the terrorist aims of the latter. Both seem to think that his exit will not mean an end to the gravy train of Western donations. Nor do they think their dependence on the West should cause them to moderate their stands or even negotiate peace with an Israel that is willing to talk without preconditions.
Canada’s chutzpah shows that fears about the blowback for breaking down the myth about Israel and Jerusalem are overblown. It also demonstrates that what is needed is some reality-based diplomacy that will bring home to the PA that their effort to isolate Israel and to avoid peace negotiations will have consequences. Far from hurting the peace process, actions such as those undertaken by Canada only serve to prod the Palestinians to stop relying on the world to do their dirty work for them. As President Obama said last month, those who expect Israel to eventually disappear are mistaken. The same can be said for those who think it will be booted out of Jerusalem. Canada deserves cheers for reminding the Palestinians of this fact.