Canada again votes at UN to back Palestinian self-determination

Canada has once again voted to back Palestinian self-determination. In a vote at the United Nations General Assembly Tuesday it reaffirmed a major change in position in the controversial and long-running dispute between Israel and the Palestinians.

Canada backs 'the international consensus on a two-state solution,' envoy says

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, centre, meets with heads of Israeli settlement authorities at the Alon Shvut settlement in the West Bank on Nov. 19. Canada has affirmed it does not share the U.S. view that Israel's settlements in the West Bank are legal under international law. (The Associated Press)

Canada has once again voted to back Palestinian self-determination. In a vote at the United Nations General Assembly Tuesday it reaffirmed a major change in position in the controversial and long-running dispute between Israel and the Palestinians. 

''Although it was a slow process … I am delighted,'' said the Palestinian envoy to the UN, Riyad Mansour, who described the vote as ''very significant, very positive.''

Today's resolution was endorsed by 167 nations. Eleven countries abstained, and five voted against it including Israel, the United States, Australia, the Marshall Islands and Micronesia.

''I was involved personally in extensive discussions with my colleagues in the foreign ministry in Ottawa'' leading up to the vote, said Mansour. ''But still we have a lot more to do.''

Canada regularly votes against or abstains on the 16 recurrent resolutions on Palestinian issues which go before the General Assembly every year, including on East Jerusalem, sovereignty over natural resources, and Israeli settlements.

For the most part Ottawa has stuck to this voting pattern which began in 2006 under former Conservative prime minister Stephen Harper, but one month ago it abruptly reversed course on "the right of the Palestinian people to self-determination" during a preliminary vote in the UN committee which deals with human rights issues.

Today's vote re-affirmed that reversal.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo delivers a statement on the Trump administration's position on Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank, in Washington on Nov. 18. (Yara Nardi/Reuters)

Groups that support Israel, including Canada's Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs, have condemned this shift. Geneva-based UN Watch has collected almost 38,000 signatures for an online petition urging Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to "reverse his UN vote against Israel."

B'nai Brith Canada said it has written to Trudeau and Foreign Affairs Minister François-Philippe Champagne "with our expectation that Canada will not permit Israel to be unfairly targeted at the UN. 

"B'nai Brith rejects the contention that settlements are the core issue of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In our view, the core issue remains the rejection by Palestinian leaders and their supporters of Israel's right to exist — and of the Jewish people's legal right to sovereignty in their ancient homeland."

''Canada voted in support of this resolution as it addresses one of the core issues of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict,'' said Anthony Hinton, political co-ordinator at Canada's mission to the UN, in a brief address to delegates after the resolution passed.

''Canada strongly supports the international consensus on a two-state solution, so that both peoples can have a secure and prosperous future. This is particularly important at a time when the prospects for 'two states for two peoples' is increasingly under threat.''

Hinton added that Canada remains a strong ally and close friend of Israel, and believes that the country continues to be unfairly singled out for criticism at the UN with resolutions which ''do not address the complexities of the issues."

''The base issues are not all that complex,'' said Thomas Woodley with Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East, which has long lobbied for what it calls a more even-handed approach to the conflict.

''It's an issue of land.''

Canada's mission to the UN has received more than 500 emails supporting its shift in position on self-determination, according to a diplomat familiar with the file. CBC News has seen some of the emails. One, from a woman in Edmonton, reads, "I hope this vote is the first of many principled Canadian votes that uphold Palestinian human rights."

The same official said the mission has also received more than 2,100 letters urging it to change course on an upcoming UN resolution in January  protecting the special status of Jerusalem as a shared city with "unique spiritual, religious and cultural dimensions."


Melissa Kent


Melissa Kent is a producer with CBC News covering the United Nations from its headquarters in New York City. @KentUNCBC