Canada must take sides in the Mideast
by Robert Fulford

(The National Post, March 16, 2002)

There's something both obscene and pathetic in the spectacle of the Canadian political establishment twisting and writhing as it once more edges snail-like toward an acceptable position on Israel, a stance that will satisfy everyone and promote what we lovingly describe as "the peace process." There is, of course, no acceptable approach to Israel: Whatever you say gets you in trouble with someone. And as it happens there isn't now (perhaps there never was) a "peace process."

Yet we embrace both of these illusions because we are, after all, Canadians. This makes us wise in the affairs of the world and entitles us to deliver stern lectures to every nation failing to meet our standards.

Everyone seems to consider our new Foreign Minister, Bill Graham, a highly evolved human being. Apparently the world should thank us for donating some of his time to diplomacy, so that, while advancing Canada's interests, he can also help bring peace to troubled regions. Yet he held his job for no more than 10 or 15 minutes before falling into the trap prepared for him by decades of Canadian diplomacy: He began posing as a fair-minded, judicious observer of events in the Middle East. He began issuing gratuitous advice.

Those who wonder why this happens again and again should realize that Canada, in its own collective mind, occupies a special place in diplomacy. At some point in the 1950s we set up in business as what our diplomats used to call "the honest brokers" of the world, with a speciality in Middle East problems. Outside Canada, no one takes that seriously now, and perhaps no one ever did.

Dean Acheson, the designer of American strategy in the Cold War, tried hard to give Canada the respect we yearned for, but he wrote an essay ("Canada: Stern Daughter of the Voice of God") to let it be known that our role as broker made us no better than a footnote and our habit of scolding the Americans was annoying if occasionally amusing. The Soviets did not for a second imagine we could help them negotiate with Washington, and the Arabs have shown no inclination to consider us independent observers of the Middle East. The Israeli view of Canada's contribution is apparently not much different.

Yet we cling to this notion because it appears to promise us a role in world affairs at least one or two levels above the status of innocent bystander. So in the Middle East (where Lester B. Pearson earned his Nobel Peace Prize, after all) we strive for even-handedness. Canadian media collude in this effort by speaking incessantly of the "cycle of violence" in Israel and even of "tit-for-tat" responses, as if they were describing two fractious but distant forces, neither of which we admire more than the other. Those phrases carry heavy baggage. Dore Gold, an advisor to Ariel Sharon, is right in saying that the words "cycle of violence" imply that the two sides are equally guilty. And after Bill Graham's recent speech, a CBC reporter described his position accurately: "He condemned the violence on both sides." That's the Canadian way -- a plague on both your houses.

But if it's the Canadian way it's also short-sighted and immoral. It's obvious that we should have taken sides in this conflict long ago. Israel has opposition parties, elections, an independent judiciary, economic freedom, free speech and a free press. (Weirdly, that last fact does not for one minute impress most of the journalists of Canada.) Nowhere else in the Middle East is there anything remotely like a democracy.

Israel, of course, elects a series of highly imperfect governments -- just like Canada. But the Palestinians have accepted as their long-term leader a man who shows no respect for life (including Palestinian life) and combines the worst qualities of a gangster and a demagogue. Benny Morris, a relentless peace campaigner within Israel for many years and a veteran critic of Israel's government, wrote recently in The Guardian that he now sees no prospects for peace. His reason is that Yasser Arafat, a man who talks of peace while rejecting compromise and promoting atrocities, remains in charge of the Palestinian Authority.

The Oslo accords meant that Mr. Arafat received massive foreign aid and the legal right to create the Palestinian Authority with its 40,000 "police." He promised to build a peaceful community and work toward peace with Israel. Instead, the Authority used its radio stations to fill the air with incitements to violence, imposed terror on its own people, and launched a newly vicious intifada that could only be aimed at destroying Israel. This is the result of the negotiations to which Canada (among other nations) committed itself for so long and with such apparent good intentions. Many Israelis, Bill Clinton, the European Union bureaucrats (who brought their chequebooks), platoons of Canadian diplomats, and about 10,000 naive journalists around the world -- they all considered the events connected with Oslo a peace process. For Mr. Arafat, on the other hand, they were a war process.

Now Israel is at war: Could anything be more obvious? Desperately, it needs friends. Canada should be one of them -- a firm supporter and, if necessary, an ally. As democrats we should naturally place ourselves on the side of the only country in the entire region whose principles resemble our own. How can we not?

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