Baird going to UN to oppose Palestinian statehood bid

Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird says he'll travel to New York today to oppose any "unilateral" move by the Palestinian Authority for statehood at the United Nations.
Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird says he will be at the UN, which he addressed last month, to oppose an expected bid Thursday by the Palestinians for UN membership as a non-voting observer state. (Jason DeCrow/Associated Press)

Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird says he'll travel to New York Thursday and will oppose any "unilateral" move by the Palestinian Authority for statehood at the United Nations.

The UN General Assembly is set to consider the matter Thursday, a year after Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas formally asked the UN to consider his application for full membership in the UN.

That request has been blocked so far by the Security Council, but Thursday's resolution to recognize Palestine as a non-voting observer state is expected to pass. Unlike the Security Council, in the General Assembly no one country has veto power.

The Palestinian Authority representative at the UN, Riyad Mansour, says he expects Thursday to be a historic day for the Palestinian people and for the UN. But the vote will likely divide world governments.

The Palestinian delegation to Canada said in a statement Wednesday the vote is an "interim step" in light of the "impasse" over the request for full membership. "We call on all peace-loving countries to support our bid at the UN," Said Hamad, chief representative of the delegation, said in the statement.

Baird told MPs in the House of Commons Wednesday he was "tremendously disappointed" with the Palestinian Authority's decision to seek the status at the UN, which he said violates several accords. Baird urged both sides, Israel and the Palestinians, to get back to the negotiating table to find a lasting peace.

But he left no doubt where Canada's support lies, saying repeatedly that Canada supports the "Jewish state" and the people of Israel.

Harper holds fast

During a press conference with Mexico's president-elect on Parliament Hill Wednesday, Prime Minister Stephen Harper was asked why Canada wouldn't adopt a stance similar to Britain and support the Palestinian bid with the proviso that it commit to returning to peace talks.

Harper repeated Canada's oft-stated position.

"We favour a two-state solution in this region, that will not be accomplished in reality unless and until the Palestinian Authority returns to the negotiating table and is able to get a comprehensive peace agreement with Israel," Harper said. 

"So we encourage them to do that and we will not support any other shortcuts or any other ways of trying to arrive at that solution without such a peace agreement."

Along with Canada, the United States and Israel are sharply opposed to the resolution, and Germany has announced it too will oppose the move. France, meanwhile, says it will back the Palestinian bid, as will China and a host of other nations. 

Britain's Foreign Secretary William Hague has indicated his government may abstain from the vote.

"We want to see a Palestinian state and look forward to the day when its people can enjoy the same rights and dignity as those of any other nation," Hague told his fellow MPs in the Commons in London today.

"But for us to support a resolution at the UN, it is important that the risks to the peace process are addressed so that the chances of negotiation beginning after it are enhanced rather than diminished."

NDP critical of government stance

In Ottawa, New Democrat Leader Tom Mulcair called the resolution a reasonable request by the Palestinians and criticized the government's decision to vote against it.

"What we have from the Canadian side, under the Conservatives, is negativism, reproach, attack, threats," Mulcair said. 

"We would like to see Canada playing a constructive role as we once proudly did on the world stage. Under Mr. Harper's Conservatives, we no longer play a constructive role."

Interim Liberal Leader Bob Rae said his party does not support the motion before the UN but predicts it will be accepted by the General Assembly.

"I have to say that I see the UN resolution as a bit of a diversion," Rae said.

"Yes, it's going to cause a big flurry.… but frankly that resolution doesn't take us any further. And the real key issue is to get the parties in front of each other and talking about negotiations."

Montreal MP Irwin Cotler noted in the Commons Wednesday that Thursday's vote will fall on the same date the UN General Assembly, in 1947, recommended the adoption and implementation of a partition plan for British-controlled Mandatory Palestine into Arab and Jewish states.