John Baird says Palestinians made 'huge mistake' pursuing Israel at international court

Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird reaffirmed Canada's opposition Monday to a Palestinian attempt to pursue war crimes charges against Israel at the International Criminal Court.
Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird, left, listens as his Israeli counterpart Avigdor Lieberman speaks during their meeting in Jerusalem, Sunday. Baird also met with Palestinian officials. (Sebastian Scheiner/Associated Press)

Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird reaffirmed Canada's opposition Monday to a Palestinian attempt to pursue war crimes charges against Israel at the International Criminal Court.

Speaking in Jerusalem, Baird said the Palestinians "made a huge mistake" by going to the ICC, a United Nations institution that Canada played a lead role in creating in the 1990s.

Baird met Monday with Israeli officials as part of his five-day visit to the region. Prior to meeting Israeli Defence Minister Moshe Yaalon, he said the Palestinians crossed a "red line" and that he "communicated that in no uncertain terms" to Palestinian leaders a day earlier.

Israel will be able to count on Canada's firm support in opposing any ICC action against the country, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said as he formally welcomed Baird before their meeting.

"You know that it's a travesty of justice to haul Israel to the dock in The Hague, and you know that the entire system of international law could unravel because of this travesty," Netanyahu said.

"I thank you for your support and for your moral leadership, and I pledge this to you: Israel will not have its hand tied by a politicized ICC."

Baird replied that "the great struggle of our generation is terrorism" — one Israel faces on the front lines.

"And as I've said before, Canada doesn't stand behind Israel; we stand shoulder-to-shoulder with it."

ICC could investigate war crimes claims

One Canadian official, who briefed The Canadian Press on condition they not be named, said Baird and Netanyahu met for almost an hour in the prime minister's office and discussed a range of issues, including "the Palestinian Authority's misguided attempt to accede to the Rome Statute."

The Rome Statute is the international treaty that led to the creation of the International Criminal Court, giving it jurisdiction over crimes against humanity and war crimes.

On Dec. 31, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas formally signed the documents necessary to accede to the treaty, one day after the UN Security Council rejected a resolution brought by the Palestinians that would have set a three-year deadline for the establishment of a Palestinian state on lands occupied by Israel.

As Baird arrived in Israel this past Friday, the prosecutor of the ICC announced she was starting a preliminary investigation that could clear the way for a full-scale investigation into possible war crimes in the Palestinian territories.

It is a development that has serious implications for both sides of the Middle East conflict.

The investigation could look at allegations of war crimes by Israel during last summer's Gaza war, in which Palestinians suffered heavy civilian casualties, as well as Israel's settlement construction on occupied Palestinian lands.

It would also likely consider alleged war crimes by Hamas, which fired thousands of rockets at crowded Israeli neighbourhoods from Gaza.

Canada opposes unilateral Palestinian statehood push

Canada has been one of only a few Western countries to stand by Israel as it comes under fierce international criticism over deadlocked negotiations with the Palestinians, the recent Gaza war and its continued construction of settlements.
A Palestinian man chants slogans as Foreign Minister John Baird meets with his Palestinian counterpart in the West Bank city of Ramallah on Sunday. Around a hundred Palestinian protesters heckled and threw eggs at Baird's vehicle. (Reuters)

Canada has expressed opposition to the unilateral attempts by the Palestinians to reach statehood.

On Sunday, when Baird met with Palestinian officials in Ramallah, demonstrators unhappy with Canada's staunch pro-Israel stance pelted Baird's motorcade with eggs and shoes — none of which hit the minister directly.

Baird issued a statement saying his meeting with Palestinian Foreign Minister Riad Malki was "cordial and constructive" and featured some candid exchanges about issues over which the two sides differ.

Saeb Erekat, the chief Palestinian negotiator, issued a statement Sunday saying Canada was standing on "the wrong side of history by blindly supporting the Israeli occupation and its apartheid policies."

Erekat also denounced Baird for meeting with Israeli officials in Jerusalem, and said Canada should apologize to Palestinians, Arabs and Muslims "for standing in the way of recognizing an independent state of Palestine."

With files from The Associated Press