UPDATED: Mixed Canadian reaction to Trump’s Israel bombshell

(JINIPIX photo)

Canada will not follow the United States’ lead and recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, a move that was hailed by mainstream Jewish organizations in this country.

In a much-anticipated announcement on Dec. 6, U.S. President Donald Trump formally recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and said that planning is underway for the construction of a new embassy in the city, which was one of his key campaign promises.

Saying that old problems require new solutions, Trump called the official recognition of Jerusalem “a long overdue step to advance the peace process and to work toward a lasting agreement.”

The announcement does not decide the borders of Jerusalem and other contested issues, Trump said. He also endorsed the idea of a two-state solution, providing that both sides want it.

“We want an agreement that is a great deal for the Israelis and is a great deal for the Palestinians,” he said.

The announcement triggered protests outside the American consulates in Toronto and Vancouver over the weekend. In Vancouver, B’nai Brith Canada reported that some Jewish community members who were watching the protest had their Israeli flags taken from them and destroyed.

The Canadian government will not be following the lead of the United States. Like most of the international community, its position has been that the status of Jerusalem must be negotiated. The Canadian embassy, like those of other countries, is in Tel Aviv.

“Canada’s long-standing position is that the status of Jerusalem can be resolved only as part of a general settlement of the Palestinian-Israeli dispute,” Adam Austen, press secretary for Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland said in a statement. “This has been the policy of consecutive governments, both Liberal and Conservative.”

The Tories took a far more non-committal tone, while the NDP harshly criticized Trump.

“We are monitoring the U.S. and their proposed deadline for the move,” said MP Erin O’Toole, the Conservative shadow minister for foreign affairs. “We will be speaking with our caucus and stakeholders on the issue and its implications. In the meantime, we urge calm on all sides. The recent threats of violence by Palestinian officials are unacceptable and unhelpful.”

The NDP, meanwhile, criticized the decision as “dangerous and misguided.”

“His (Trump’s) decision is contrary to international law and UN Security Council resolutions and will certainly undermine attempts for a peace process,” said Hélène Laverdière, the party’s foreign affairs critic. “This is a devastating day for those who believe in peace, justice and security in the Middle East.”

Given the mixed reaction from Canadian politicians, Shimon Koffler Fogel, CEO of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA), said that it is unrealistic to expect Canada to follow America’s lead. CIJA has already told Freeland that the Canadian government should recognize “the special relationship” that Jews have with Jerusalem.

“Even if there are reasons that cause the government to hesitate in terms of moving forward in terms of formal recognition of Jerusalem, there certainly should be a recognition of the unique association and connection that the Jewish People and the Jewish state have to Jerusalem – one that has no parallel with any other community, with any other people, with any other faith,” Fogel said in a conference call last week.

Numerous Canadian Jewish organizations welcomed Trump’s announcement. “Since the re-establishment of the modern State of Israel, Jerusalem has been the home to Israel’s democratically elected parliament, independent supreme court and national government offices. We have always maintained that Canada should formally recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel,” CIJA chair David Cape said in a statement.

B’nai Brith Canada echoed those sentiments. “Moving the embassy is an overdue and common-sense decision,” Michael Mostyn, the organization’s CEO, said in a statement. “Recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital will advance the peace process, not obstruct it. True peace is only possible when all sides acknowledge the indelible bond between the Jewish People and their holiest city.”

However, JSpace Canada – which describes itself as a “Jewish, progressive, pro-Israel voice” – called the announcement “premature” and said it could “potentially undermine future negotiations toward a two-state settlement.”

“Certainly west Jerusalem should be recognized as the capital of Israel, as part of a comprehensive peace plan, which includes a two-state solution,” said Daniel Schild, director of JSpace Canada.

“We fear this could cause a resumption of violence and loss of life and that would be a terrible result of this announcement.”

Former Liberal justice minister and international human rights lawyer Irwin Cotler pointed out that Trump was implementing an American law that had been on the books since 1995, but has been delayed by a series of presidential waivers ever since. Russian President Vladmir Putin officially recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital seven months ago, without triggering any reaction at all, Cotler said in a statement.

The announcement will have little impact on negotiations because, “regrettably, there has been no peace process for some time,” he said. “What is needed now is a commitment to such negotiations – with a view to achieving ‘two states for two peoples.’ ”

“It should be clear,” Cotler continued, “the decision is a recognition not only of a historical reality, but a juridical one – Jerusalem is the seat of the government of Israel, the parliament of Israel, the Supreme Court of Israel and the centrepiece of Israeli diplomacy and public policy.”

World leaders were generally critical of Trump’s unilateral announcement. Reflecting international opinion, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres said that the status of Jerusalem must be resolved in direct negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians.

“From Day One as secretary general of the United Nations, I have consistently spoken out against any unilateral measures that would jeopardize the prospect of peace for Israelis and Palestinians,” he said in a statement. “In this moment of great anxiety, I want to make it clear: there is no alternative to the two-state solution. There is no Plan B.”

Although Trump heralded the recognition of Jerusalem as long overdue, it could also pose significant problems for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has been conspicuously silent on the topic, said Prof. Emanuel Adler, the Andrea and Charles Bronfman chair of Israeli studies at the University of Toronto’s Munk School of Global Affairs.

“There is no free lunch. The question is: what is the price that Trump will extract from these symbolic concessions,” Adler said in an interview with The CJN, shortly before Trump’s announcement.

The peace process is “paralyzed” and Netanyahu’s government has shown little enthusiasm for a two-state solution recently, Adler said. But he noted that it is possible that the move is part of a larger plan to get Israel and the Palestinians back to the negotiating table.

“This may lead to the end of the (Israeli government) coalition, to new elections,” Adler said. “It’s unpredictable.”

It is not likely, however, that other foreign governments will follow America’s lead, he said.

“They understand it poses an enormous obstacle for the Palestinians. The Europeans and other countries in the Middle East and Turkey do not see eye-to-eye with Trump. Trump is an outlier,” said Adler, who noted that even Germany, a close ally of Israel, advised against it.

The status of Jerusalem and the right to return for Palestinians have traditionally been the two most difficult issues in the peace process and have been left for final negotiations.

“For the world, this is a big obstacle for a two-state solution,” Adler said.