NDP gov’t would be Mideast player, Mulcair says

Thomas Mulcair speaks with audience members during his appearance at the Gelber Conference Centre.  [Janice Arnold photo]

MONTREAL — Under a New Democratic Party government Canada would again play an active role in the Middle East peace process, said party leader Thomas Mulcair, who lambasted the current Conservative government for allowing this country to lose its once respected stature in international affairs.

“Canada is absolutely nowhere, we are not players. Our voice could count for a lot,” Mulcair said during a public event at the Gelber Conference Centre Nov. 12, organized by the Montreal Friends of Peace Now and the Labour Zionist History Circle.

“Stephen Harper says he is a steadfast ally [of Israel], but what do allies do, if not take part in the process?

“Working for peace means working with countries that don’t necessarily agree with us. That’s the essence of diplomacy. We [an NDP government] are going to be at the table… and not just harp on the sidelines.”

The NDP’s policy on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict favours a two-state solution arrived at through mutual negotiation and resulting in borders that allow each of the peoples to live in peace, he said.

“Everyone in the NDP agrees on that,” Mulcair said, speaking without text or notes and taking written questions from the audience. He acknowledged that there have been “attempts within the party to chip away [at that position], but they have gotten nowhere.”

Mulcair said his caucus is “100 per cent” in support of that policy, and it is what the NDP will take into the 2015 federal election.

Mulcair described himself as “a friend of Israel under all circumstances” – a stance he said he has been reproached for, although he did not say by whom.

“But that is not to say that I don’t see problems or that things could be done better,” he said.

Mulcair said his “heartfelt and honestly held” view is that there must be an “inviolable homeland for Jews in the Middle East… Creating a homeland for the Jews is one of the noblest things the world community was able to accomplish since the war.”

In response to a question, Mulcair said he came to that belief because his wife, Catherine Pinhas, is Sephardi and the daughter of Holocaust survivors.

However, accusing the Palestinian leadership of a “cycle of rejectionism,” as a “lobby” charged [an apparent reference to a July 29 statement by Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs president David Koschitzky upon the renewal of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks] is not helpful, Mulcair indicated.

He also took to task Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s assertion that the international community is too soft on the Palestinians, made on Nov. 10 at the General Assembly of North American Jewish Federations in Jerusalem.

“What purpose does that have?… What is he hoping to accomplish?” Mulcair asked.

And building new Jewish settlements “clearly doesn’t help, it’s playing with fire,” Mulcair said. He congratulated the United States for “not taking the bait” and allowing the Israeli government’s move to derail the peace talks.

Mulcair said the NDP sees “the slight upgrade” of the Palestinian Authority’s standing at the United Nations as “a positive step” and preferable “to other options” that might be outside international law.

He agreed with a questioner that the UN’s regularly “singling out Israel as a pariah” is wrong, “but you can’t get change if you criticize from the outside.”

Mulcair rejected the boycott, divestment and sanctions campaign against Israel, saying it is “exactly the wrong direction we should be going in.”

Accusing Israel of apartheid also “serves no purpose.”

As for a “one-state solution,” Mulcair asked, “What does that mean? I’ve never received a clear answer,” then continued: “Anyone who proposes a one-state solution for Israelis and Palestinians has been asleep for 60 years. It’s not a realistic solution, it’s not going to happen. It would mean invariably the death of the State of Israel… It’s just another way of saying Israel does not have the right to exist.”

Mulcair deplored the adversarial attitude the Harper government has taken with the United Nations.

“There is a lot that is negative about its structure and what has happened, but the UN is the only game in town. It’s what was built out of the ashes of World War II,” he said. “We don’t get to play if we are in attack mode.

“With Harper, everything is black and white – we are right and everyone else is wrong… It doesn’t matter what we do, we’re serving a higher cause.”

This attitude has been particularly detrimental to advancing the Mideast peace process, Mulcair believes.

“The tone is, there is no discussion, no debate, no analysis, nothing is open,” he said.

Mulcair lauded U.S. President Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry for the leadership they are showing in getting negotiations restarted.

Neither Israelis nor Palestinians should add new issues, particularly historic injustices, once the framework for negotiations has been established, Mulcair said. “There is always something that can be added… always one more roadblock… to getting a result.”