The top Palestinian diplomat in Canada says the Harper government should not have boycotted a United Nations conference this week that harshly criticized Israeli settlements in the West Bank and east Jerusalem.

Said Hamad says Canada should have joined other countries at a conference in Geneva examining the Fourth Geneva Convention, which governs the rules of war and military occupation.

Some 126 countries of the 196 international parties to the convention adopted a resolution Wednesday saying Israel's construction of settlements does not conform to its international legal obligations as an occupying power.

Along with Israel and the U.S., Canada boycotted the conference, another example of unwavering Conservative support of Israel — a position that has exposed deep differences with the majority of the United Nations.

"We had hoped Canada would participate in this conference, given its long-standing policy that '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,"' Hamad said in a written statement.

"We urge all countries absent from the conference to rejoin the international community's efforts to enforce the rule of law."

Hamad was quoting from Canada's written foreign policy, posted on the Foreign Affairs Department website — a written policy that Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird have been reluctant to repeat out loud.

Hamad did not respond to a request for an interview.

Meeting singles out Israel for criticism: Baird

In his own statement, Baird said Canada stayed away from the Geneva meeting to avoid lending credibility to a process it views as one-sided and politicized.

The meeting "serves only to single out one country, Israel, for criticism," Baird said.

"Canada has complete faith in the strength of the rule of law in Israel, and we believe the Israelis are capable of investigating matters surrounding the events that took place in Gaza in the summer of 2014."

The 50-day war between Israel and the Islamic militant group Hamas left more than 2,100 Palestinians dead, most of them civilians, says the UN. Israel disputes the UN numbers and insists that up to half the Palestinian fatalities were enemy combatants.

In Israel, 72 people were killed, most of them soldiers.

The UN Human Rights Council has appointed a commission of inquiry to look into the Gaza war, and is to table a report in March. Baird has criticized the council for singling out Israel and ignoring the Hamas rocket attacks, and generally regards its work as being biased against Israel.

Baird said the UN's latest examination of the issue this week risks "undermining the integrity and credibility of the Geneva Conventions and the neutrality of their application. Such a misguided approach will neither serve the cause of peace nor bring the parties closer to a negotiated settlement."

Israel says the Geneva Conventions don't apply to the West Bank, Gaza and east Jerusalem because the Palestinians have never had their own sovereign state.

However, Canada's own written foreign policy statement says they do.

"Canada does not recognize permanent Israeli control over territories occupied in 1967 (the Golan Heights, the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip)," says the statement on the Foreign Affairs website.

"The Fourth Geneva Convention applies in the occupied territories and establishes Israel's obligations as an occupying power, in particular with respect to the humane treatment of the inhabitants of the occupied territories."

In a statement, Israeli foreign ministry spokesman Emmanuel Nahshon described the conference as "another example of a multilateral mechanism falling victim to an anti-Israel agenda."

"Whether the convening of this conference is the result of pressure, distorted interpretation of the Geneva Conventions, a desire to coerce Israel into succumbing to a political dictate or any other motive, it will serve only to further immune terrorist groups targeting civilians and using their own civilians as human shields."

The Middle East conflict has also driven a wedge between Canada and the European Union this week.

Baird said he was "deeply concerned" by a decision by the EU's General Court to take Hamas off its list of terrorist organizations. Canada has listed Hamas as a terrorist organization.

"We understand that restrictive measures remain in place for the time being, and we call on the EU to take the immediate remedial steps necessary to keep Hamas listed as a terrorist entity," Baird said in a separate statement.


  • This story has been updated to note that Israel disputes the UN figures on casualties.
    Dec 19, 2014 3:25 PM ET
with files from CBC News