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Thursday, December 02, 2004

Ottawa assails Israel's UN foes

UNITED NATIONS — UN Ambassador Allan Rock Tuesday delivered a scathing denunciation of the General Assembly's resolutions isolating and attacking Israel, confirming a shift in Canada's approach to the Middle East.

During an annual debate on the question of Palestine, Mr. Rock said Canada will vote Wednesday against two key resolutions on which it has abstained in the past, lining up with the United States, often the only major power to defend Israel at the United Nations.

"We believe that the time has come, especially given the renewed hope for the peace process, to evaluate the efforts that all of us make at the United Nations to determine if they could be redirected towards more constructive outcomes," Mr. Rock said.

He said the General Assembly and the much more powerful Security Council should do more to foster respect and trust between Israelis and Palestinians in order to help bring peace to the region.

Canada has typically abstained on resolutions that condemn Israel's occupation of and settlements in the West Bank and Gaza.

Only the United States and a few others have been left to support the embattled Jewish state.

Mr. Rock's speech Tuesday confirmed a shift in approach to UN questions involving the Middle East that has been evident since last summer. Then, Canada abstained on a widely supported resolution that noted the International Court of Justice's finding that Israel's security fence violated international law.

Critics in the Canadian-Arab community suggest the Martin government is in danger of abandoning Canada's long-standing evenhandedness toward the region, while Jewish lobbyists insist the government is merely adjusting its UN positions to reflect its overall approach.

Mr. Rock said General Assembly resolutions on the Middle East are "often divisive and lack in balance" because they condemn Israeli violence but play down attacks against Israeli civilians.

"References to Israeli security needs are often overlooked in the General Assembly. Repeatedly emphasizing Israel's responsibility under international law obscures equally important responsibilities of other parties to the conflict."

He added that the UN often fails to adequately condemn the Palestinians for their failure to rein in terrorists who target civilians or to reform their own governing bodies.

In an effort to be evenhanded, Canada will support a resolution on which it has abstained in the past: It calls for a nuclear-free Middle East and singles out Israel, which is widely suspected (but has never admitted it) to have nuclear capability.

Mr. Rock said the government's fundamental policy toward the Middle East remains unchanged.

It supports Israel's right to exist with secure borders, and its right to defend its citizens from terrorist attacks, in accordance with standards of international law and human rights.

It also supports the creation of a Palestinian state, and opposes the establishment of settlements in the territories, unilateral moves by Israel to annex East Jerusalem and the construction of the security fence inside the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

Mazen Chouaib, executive director of the National Council on Canada-Arab Relations, said the shift at the UN sends a troubling signal to Arabs in Canada and around the world.

"It can be read as a message that Canada is abandoning its position as far as the Palestinians are concerned, if this pattern continues," he said. "Canada will start to be seen in a different light; this could send the signal that Canada is abandoning its honest broker's role."

But Shimon Fogel, chief executive of the Canada-Israel Committee, said the UN General Assembly has long been a venue for one-sided, anti-Israeli rhetoric from the Islamic world.

Changing Canada's policy toward votes at the UN has been a cause célèbre for the pro-Israel lobby.

"The concerns about the abuses in the General Assembly, as well as the other institutions of the UN system like the Commission on Human Rights, have been a concern to Canada for a long time," he said.

Mr. Fogel said Canada's more aggressive stand at the UN provides moral support for Israel, rather than having any practical effect.