Canada recalls diplomats after Palestinians win UN vote
John Baird calls Palestinians' UN success Thursday 'an impediment to peace'
Canada is temporarily recalling its heads of mission to Israel and the West Bank, along with its United Nations representatives in New York and Geneva, to protest the Palestinians' successful bid on Thursday for upgraded status in the UN.
Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird pledged to "review the full range of its bilateral relationship" with the Palestinian Authority in the wake of the vote in New York City.
"I want to get a sense from the diplomats what they see on the ground, how they see things going, and how we can effectively respond to what could be a new reality," Baird told CBC News in an interview from New York on Friday.
Canada was one of nine countries, including the U.S. and Israel, to oppose upgrading the UN observer status of the Palestinian Authority from "entity" to "non-member state."
In a statement released Friday morning, Baird said, "Yesterday’s unilateral action does nothing to further the Middle East peace process. It will not change the reality on the streets of the West Bank or Gaza. This unilateral step is an impediment to peace.
"We again call on the Palestinian Authority and Israel to return to negotiations without preconditions, for the good of their people."
Abbas speech 'combative'
There has been speculation that Canada will ask the Palestinian delegation in Ottawa to leave, or not renew its $300 million in aid to the Palestinian Authority over five years.
However, the minister appeared to discount that in an interview, saying the government values its relationship and dialogue with the Palestinian delegation in Ottawa.
"Sometimes you have to work with people that you disagree with," he said. "That's the nature of diplomacy and the nature of my job."
He said there was no intention to break off relations with the Palestinian Authority.
The minister objected strongly to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas's remarks before the UN voted Thursday.
"He basically accused the Israelis of some pretty heinous crimes, ethnic cleansing," Baird told CBC's Heather Hiscox.
"It was a combative speech, no tone of reconciliation. It was an opportunity for him to be magnanimous, to reach out to the Israeli government, and we're disappointed that he didn't take that opportunity."
Canada 'now on the sidelines'
Paul Dewar, the NDP's foreign affairs critic, said that Canada, once seen as a bridge builder, is now on the sidelines in any negotiations between the two sides.
"Most people will just look at Canada and say, well, they're obviously not interested in playing a role here and they'll ignore us and we'll be isolated. And that has deep ramifications not just on this file, but in our reputation in the world and our capability to actually be an honest broker and be a player in world affairs," he said.
Dewar said that the NDP, if it were to form the government, would not have voted against the resolution.
Diplomacy doesn't work by issuing ultimatums or by theatrics at the General Assembly, Dewar said.
"This government has actually made it more difficult for Palestinian representatives to enter our country. We know that, because visas have not being given. And this is with the moderates. So what they're doing is driving the moderates away from any kind of relationship with Canada," he said.
Bob Rae, interim leader of the Liberal Party, said that he had no objection to Canada voting against the resolution.
But it's a "big deal" Rae told CBC News, "to say we're going to cut aid, and we're going to reduce our diplomatic engagement with Palestinians." Such gestures will affect Canada's ability to talk to all sides, Rae said, to the point that, "We're not doing our job in the world, that's who we are as a country, that's what we've always done."
Friday, the chief representative for the Palestinian General Delegation in Canada, Said Hamad, issued a statement, saying that the Palestinian Liberation Organization "fully respects votes cast by all members in the General Assembly, irrespective of whether they were in favour of, abstained from, or were cast against the resolution." He did not mention Canada.
But reporter Iris Mackler told CBC's News Network that she was in Ramallah Thursday when people were listening for the results of the vote and was told, "You're [Canada] on the wrong side of history."
Mackler reported that chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said, "Canada is more Israeli than the Israelis and should have no role."