Lowering “the temperature” and allowing cooler heads to prevail in the wake of the Israel-Hamas conflict in May was top of mind for Foreign Affairs Minister Marc Garneau on his recent visit to Israel, Jordan and the West Bank.
Garneau was the first foreign minister to visit Israel since Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s government was sworn in last month.
In addition to Bennett, Garneau met with Alternate Prime Minister and Foreign Affairs Minister Yair Lapid, and Innovation, Science and Technology Minister Orit Farkash-Hacohen. He also spoke with President-elect Isaac Herzog.
In a conference call from Jerusalem on July 5 with Canadian media, Garneau said the point of the trip was to strengthen cooperation with “key partners” in the region and to reaffirm Canada’s “continued commitment to playing a constructive role toward peace and security in the Middle East.”
While Garneau reiterated Canada’s longstanding position that a two-state solution is the best way toward a just and lasting peace, “more pressing short-term issues” arose on his trip.
One was “finding ways to lower the temperature, to not provide any excuse for any flare-ups in what is a fragile ceasefire. That is the number one priority.” He said “all parties have a role to play at this time” in seeking calm.
To help achieve that, Garneau urged Israel to “cease settlement activity and cease demolition and eviction threats that exist in east Jerusalem.”
He said Canada considers those to be “potentially quite provocative…at a time when we want to lower the temperature and not provide any excuse for (hostilities) to flare up again. That is the number one priority.”
- Listen to The CJN Daily podcast to hear Ron Csillag and Ellin Bessner break down the key takeaways of Marc Garneau’s Middle East visit.
To reporters, the minister did not refer by name to east Jerusalem’s predominantly Palestinian Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood, where a land dispute was at the centre of this spring’s bombing campaign between Israel and Gaza’s Hamas-led government.
Another priority is getting humanitarian aid to Gaza, Garneau said. In late May, Canada pledged $25 million in immediate aid to Gaza.
In the 11 days of bombing, “Gaza was hit hard not only with the loss of life, but also with the destruction of many homes and also infrastructure that is essential to carry out a normal life,” Garneau told reporters. He said that, and his advice to Israel, were “the immediate priorities” of his trip.
“I think we need a cooling off period. If the temperature goes down, we can start thinking about ways to look at long-term solutions,” he said.
Garneau also visited Jordan and the West Bank, where he met with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh, and Foreign Minister Riyad al-Maliki.
Garneau said he urged the PA to conduct elections “as soon as possible.”
Many Palestinians want to vote and many “have never voted in their lives.” An election, which was postponed earlier this year, would provide “an opportunity for them to express themselves democratically.”
Also raised with the PA was Canada’s “very great concern” that a Palestinian activist was killed while in the custody of Palestinian security forces.
“This was something we were shocked by and we called for a full and open transparent accounting. Those responsible must be held accountable.”
The Jerusalem Post reported that Lapid thanked Garneau for supporting Israel during the Gaza war.
During May’s conflict, Garneau tweeted that he supported Israel’s right to defend itself against Hamas rockets. “The indiscriminate barrage of rocket attacks fired by Hamas into populated areas of Israel is absolutely unacceptable and must cease immediately,” he said.
“It is great to be back in Israel,” Garneau told Lapid, the Post reported. “This is my fifth trip, but my first as Minister of Foreign Affairs.”
In response, Lapid reportedly told Garneau, “you are the first foreign minister that I have ever had the pleasure of hosting here. So it’s a first for me too.”
In Israel, Garneau announced that Canada will triple its annual contribution to the Canada-Israel Agreement on Bilateral Cooperation in Industrial Research and Development to $3 million per year.
Garneau also announced that Canada will provide $700,000 to “Siach Shalom” (Talking Peace), a project that supports and facilitates Israeli-Palestinian dialogue, and increases the inclusion of religious communities and women in peacebuilding.
The minister also visited the Hand in Hand Center for Jewish-Arab Education school in Jerusalem, part of a network of Jewish-Arab integrated bilingual schools.
Finally, Garneau and Irwin Cotler, Canada’s Special Envoy on Preserving Holocaust Remembrance and Combatting Anti-Semitism, visited Yad Vashem, where the minister took part in a wreath-laying ceremony.
“Canada is firmly committed to advancing Holocaust education, remembrance & fighting #antisemitism & Holocaust denial,” Garneau tweeted after the visit.
Later this summer, Canada will host an emergency National Summit on Anti-Semitism, led by Cotler.