Liberals, Tories spar over Middle East as House of Commons returns
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau answers a question during Question Period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, on Monday, Jan.25, 2016. (THE CANADIAN PRESS / Adrian Wyld)
Mike Blanchfield, The Canadian Press
Published Monday, January 25, 2016 2:57PM EST
Last Updated Monday, January 25, 2016 5:32PM EST
OTTAWA -- Israel's widely condemned practice of constructing settlements in territory claimed by the Palestinians faced gentle criticism Monday from a relatively unfamiliar source -- the Canadian government.
Foreign Affairs Stephane Dion named both the construction of the Israeli settlements and the Palestinian pursuit of unilateral statehood recognition as impediments to peace.
Dion was responding in the House of Commons to strong criticism from the Conservative opposition, which accused the Liberal government of being soft in its support of Israel.
The Harper Conservatives positioned themselves as steadfast friends and allies of Israel, giving rise to accusations they'd tilted Canada's foreign policy too far towards Israel.
"As a steadfast ally and friend to Israel, Canada calls for all efforts to be made to reduce violence and incitement and to help build the conditions for a return to the negotiating table," Dion said in a statement expressing concern over the recent violence in Israel and the West Bank.
In it, Dion affirmed Canada's long-held position that it wants a negotiated, two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, as he singled out problems on both sides: Israel's construction of settlements and the Palestinians' unilateral pursuit of statehood in international forums.
In a written statement, Conservative MPs Tony Clement and Peter Kent faulted Dion for equating the two and not mentioning the role of Hamas, which Canada has listed as a terrorist organization, in the conflict.
Kent later told the Commons that Dion had issued an "outrageously vague expression of concern" that ignored the incitement by Hamas and Palestinian Authority leaders to attack Israelis.
"For months now, we've seen a growing wave of deadly attacks against Israelis by Palestinians, driven by the incitement of their leaders," said Kent.
Dion said it was a Liberal government that listed Hamas as a terrorist entity in 2002, and Canada remains committed to fight it.
He also said that for the security of "our friend Israel," Canada supports a two-state solution.
"And any unilateral gesture, like the try to have the recognition of Palestine in a unilateral way instead of by negotiation and the settlements, are not a help for peace."
Former prime minister Stephen Harper chided reporters travelling with him to Israel in January 2014 for asking him to restate Canada's foreign policy, which opposes the settlements.
In December 2012, then-foreign affairs minister John Baird also told the House of Commons that a new plan then by Israel to build settlements was not helping the cause of peace.
But Baird was generally unreserved in his support of Israel, which included a speech before the United Nations General Assembly in November 2012 to oppose the Palestinian motion for statehood recognition.
The new Trudeau government has affirmed Canada's ongoing support of Israel but has said the tone of relationship might change -- a reference to the boisterous support of the previous Conservative government.
Last week at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he had a "great" meeting with Trudeau the previous month and enjoys a "very, very good relationship" with the new Canadian prime minister.