Canadian FM Breaks Taboo Against Meeting Israelis in East Jerusalem

Canadian Foreign Minister John Baird visits East Jerusalem, Golan Heights; source says Baird 'recognizes the sensitivity, but wants to set a precedent.'

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Barak Ravid
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ברק רביד - צרובה
Barak Ravid

Canada’s foreign minister did something this week that most of his Western colleagues adamantly refuse to do: he met with Justice Minister Tzipi Livni in her office at the Justice Ministry, which is located in East Jerusalem.

Most Western countries refuse to let their officials attend meetings at Israeli government offices in East Jerusalem, lest this be viewed as recognizing Israel’s annexation of that part of the city.

Nor was that all John Baird did: He also visited an Israeli army outpost in the Golan Heights to view the situation on the Syrian border firsthand and receive an intelligence briefing on Syria’s civil war. The Golan is another area many Western countries bar their officials from visiting, lest it be viewed as recognizing Israel’s annexation of the heights.

A senior Israeli Foreign Ministry official said that Baird made both visits despite opposition from diplomats at Canada’s embassy in Tel Aviv.

A nongovernmental Israeli source involved in Israeli-Canadian relations noted that Baird also violated the East Jerusalem taboo last time he was here, by visiting Jerusalem’s Old City with an official Israeli escort. “Baird recognizes the sensitivity, but he wants to set a precedent,” this source said.

Baird’s spokesman, Rick Roth, said the Canadian minister met with Livni to hear her views on the Palestinian issue, given that she is also the minister in charge of negotiations with the Palestinians.

“As guests, we were pleased to meet our hosts where it was most convenient for them,” he said. “This doesn’t change our long-standing position that all final-status issues must be negotiated between the two parties.”

Both the United States and the European Union’s member states refuse to let their officials meet Israeli officials in East Jerusalem. Moreover, their embassies in Tel Aviv don’t deal with East Jerusalem at all; rather, they leave this issue to their consulates in Jerusalem, which are in charge of relations with the Palestinian Authority. Many European foreign ministers even insist on meeting Palestinian officials in East Jerusalem, to emphasize their view that it is occupied Palestinian territory.

Canada’s current government is widely considered Israel’s best friend in the world today, and Baird is considered one of Israel’s greatest allies within this government.

Shimon Peres, right, and Canada's Foreign Minister John Baird meet in Jerusalem, April, 2013.Credit: Reuters

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