par Steven Edwards
UNITED NATIONS - Canada told the United Nations yesterday the world body is falling short of doing everything possible to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, saying member states have failed to set a vision for peace.
The blunt message in a speech by Canadian UN Ambassador John McNee reflects the Conservative government's more pro-Israel line on Middle East policy that some say should be debated in Parliament before it's unveiled on a world stage.
"Nothing can replace the actions, commitment and political will of the parties themselves to move forward," Mr. McNee told delegates in the General Assembly on the first day of the annual Question of Palestine debate.
"But we, member states of the United Nations, can -- and must -- create the momentum, the context and the political horizon that shows a way forward out of the conflict and towards a sustainable peace."
Like Paul Martin's government, the Conservatives under Prime Minister Stephen Harper believe many of the resolutions Arab and Muslim states push through in the UN General Assembly are, on balance, weighted against Israel and not helpful to setting the stage for fair negotiations.
But the Conservatives have gone a step farther by having Mr. McNee declare: "The resolution to the crisis depends on an end to terror and violence."
Although Mr. McNee went on to state both sides -- Palestinian and Israeli -- should show restraint, the statement will be widely interpreted at the UN that Canada is now more strongly endorsing the Israeli demand that Palestinian violence must end before final settlement talks can begin.
Indeed, Mr. McNee specified the Palestinians must immediately stop launching Qassam rockets into Israeli towns -- acts that have led to Israeli counterstrikes to try to destroy launch capability.
In an addendum that offered balance, Mr. McNee also said Canada expected the Israeli government to meet its obligations to "prevent harm to the Palestinian civilian population and damage to civilian infrastructure."
Assessing the UN's position on the Middle East is important because the world body contributes to the peace process through the so-called Quartet, which also comprises the United States, European Union and Russia.
But Israel, backed by the United States, has long complained the annual resolutions, which are heavy on Israeli responsibilities while light on what the Arabs should do, show the world body's sense of fair play is skewed.
The Conservatives have gone even farther than Mr. Martin's Liberals in shifting their support toward the Israelis on some of the resolutions -- a position lamented yesterday by the Palestinian "observer" to the UN, Ambassador Riyad Mansour.
"We look on Canada as a friend, but while we respect the sovereign decision of Canada to make that shift, we believe Canada is being disrespectful to itself by voting with the extreme minority," he said in an interview.
"When Canada says that the position of the great majority of nations is not helpful, well it is saying it is not accepting the will of the majority, and it is not accepting the role of the UN in upholding international law."
Mr. Mansour dismisses arguments many of the countries that support of the Palestinian cause are themselves not democracies, asking, "How do you explain the support of the European Union?"
In reality, Canada even under the Conservatives has not shifted on as many of the resolutions as Canadian Jewish groups initially expected.
"We're already seeing echoes of the past and that doesn't gel with this government's pronouncements and actions up until now," said B'nai Brith Canada spokeswoman Karen Lazar.