Netanyahu and Harper
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with his wife Sara sits with his Canadian counterpart Stephen Harper and his wife Laureen during a welcoming ceremony in Jerusalem January 19, 2014. Photo by AP
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On the eve of Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper's visit to Israel, the Foreign Ministry in Ottawa issued an updated policy paper on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Although many on the right believe the Harper government to be a full-fledged supporter of Israeli policy on the Palestinian issue, the policy paper states that Canada believes the settlements are illegal and an obstacle to peace.

During a press conference with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah on Monday, Harper dodged a question about the Israeli settlements. "I will not single out Israel on this trip," he said. "Our position on this is known."

On Sunday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gave Harper a royal welcome on his first visit to Israel. This evening, Harper will address the Knesset. Netanyahu considers Harper his best, perhaps only, friend among today's world leaders, and a wholehearted supporter of his government's policy.

Several hours before the reception ceremony, Netanyahu criticized the four EU countries – Britain, France, Spain, and Italy - that summoned Israel's ambassadors to hear a rebuke concerning construction in the settlements, and accused them of "a one-sided and unfair attitude toward Israel."

But in describing Harper, Netanyahu stressed that the Canadian prime minister "expresses a clear and courageous moral position with regard to the truth and to the necessary criteria in the international community toward Israel and the conflict here."

But despite Netanyahu's warm words, the latest document posted on the Canadian Foreign Ministry's website, under the heading "Canadian Policy on Key Issues in the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict" shows that the Canadian government is not backing nearly any of Israel's demands in the negotiations with the Palestinians. In fact, Canada's policy is practically identical to the official policy of many of the EU countries.

The policy statement, published on January 13, six days before Harper's arrival in Jerusalem, points out that Canada does not recognize permanent Israeli control over territories conquered in 1967 and says the settlements constitute a violation of UN Security Council resolutions. "Israeli settlements in the occupied territories are a violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention. The settlements also constitute a serious obstacle to achieving a comprehensive, just and lasting peace," it reads.

The Canadian government does not support Israeli policy on Jerusalem either: "Canada considers the status of Jerusalem can be resolved only as part of a general settlement of the Palestinian-Israeli dispute. Canada does not recognize Israel's unilateral annexation of East Jerusalem."

The Canadian policy statement also does not express support for Netanyahu's demand for recognition of Israel as the national homeland of the Jewish people. It states that Canada supports the Palestinian people's right to self-determination and "the creation of a sovereign, independent, viable, democratic and territorially contiguous Palestinian state" and also affirms Canada's recognition of the PLO as the principle representative of the Palestinian people.

On the refugee issue, the policy statement does not endorse Netanyahu's position that not a single Palestinian refugee will return to Israel. Instead, it hews much closer to the language of the Arab Peace Initiative. "Canada believes that a just solution to the Palestinian refugee issue is central to a settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, as called for in United Nations General Assembly resolution 194 (1948), and United Nations Security Council resolution 242," it says. "A solution to the Palestinian refugee issue must be negotiated among the parties concerned in the context of a final status peace agreement. This solution should respect the rights of the refugees, in accordance with international law," the statement concludes.

Canada's stated support for Israel touches on several issues – security arrangements, Israel's right to self-defense, and opposition to anti-Israel discrimination at the UN. The policy statement says that Canada recognizes Israel's right to ensure its security: "Israel has a right under international law to take the necessary measures, in accordance with human rights and international humanitarian law, to protect the security of its citizens from attacks by terrorist groups."

The document also says that Canada "condemns all forms of incitement," without specifying that this refers to Palestinian incitement against Israel.

It also strongly states that Canada "rejects one-sided resolutions," adding that for years Canadian governments "have been concerned about the polemical and repetitive nature of many of the resolutions."