Column for April 2

Hypocrisy, thy name is Harper

What should a poor Palestinian make of the latest news out of Ottawa?

On the very day last week that Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper was standing in the phone line queue to be among the first to congratulate Ehud Olmert, Israel’s new prime minister, on his election victory, Harper’s foreign affairs minister, Peter MacKay, was standing in front of the cameras to announce Canada will become the first country after Israel to cut off all contact with Hamas, the democratically elected government of the Palestinian people.


In a speech shortly after his own election, Harper made the case that “Canada may not be a superpower, but we stand for higher values to which all peoples aspire,” citing freedom, democracy, the rule of law, human rights and compassion for the less fortunate as among our core values. “And it is important that our actions as Canadians promote these values in all corners of the Earth."

Freedom? In January, 73 per cent of eligible Palestinian voters cast their ballots in an election one European Union monitor called an example to the Arab world. It was not easy. The month before, Israeli officials threatened not to allow Palestinians in East Jerusalem to vote because they feared Hamas might win. In the end, the Israelis agreed to let Palestinian candidates campaign but only if they got permission from the police. “Anyone who is a supporter of Hamas will not receive permission,” explained a spokesperson.

Democracy? Hamas’ “Change and Reform” party won the election with 44.5 per cent of the vote, which, if you’re counting, is a full 8.2 per cent more than Stephen Harper’s Conservatives got in our election. Not to forget that voter turnout in dangerous Palestine was eight per cent higher than in Canada.

Rule of law? Israel responded to Hamas’ victory by announcing it would refuse to transfer $50 million a month it collects in tax receipts for the Palestinian Authority. Under the 1993 Oslo Accords, signed by Israel, these are, in the words of an Israeli journalist, “tax revenues that are due to the [Palestinian] people in the territories where the goods are headed, and the Israelis have no right to hold them up.” (Ironically, one of the reasons cited for cutting off aid to the Palestinian Authority is its failure to “express clear support for the Middle East peace process, as outlined in the Oslo Accords…” Oh, right, those Oslo Accords.)

Rule of whose law? Israel is now threatening to unilaterally determine new borders between Israel and Palestine, and impose them by 2010, regardless of Palestinian objections.

Has our government protested these clear violations of the rule of law or threatened sanctions against the Israeli government?

How about human rights? Here is what Amnesty International had to say recently: “Over 8,000 Palestinians, most of whom are nonviolent prisoners of conscience and few if any of whom have received trials that meet international standards, are being held as political prisoners. Over the past five years, close to 20,000 Palestinians have been made homeless and thousands of others have lost their livelihood as the Israeli army has destroyed over 4,000 homes, vast areas of agricultural land and hundreds of other properties.”

Which leads us to “compassion for the less fortunate.”

According to a report in the Globe and Mail last week, Canada’s decision to cut off aid to the Palestinian authority will mean an end to support for a number of significant humanitarian projects, including replacing houses destroyed by the Israelis and providing literacy and sex education classes to young Palestinian women.

None of this is to suggest Hamas is a paragon of virtue. Hamas, which stands for Islamic Resistance Movement, has been responsible for many of the suicide bombings that have killed innocent Israeli civilians. And one of its key 1988 founding principles is the obliteration of the state of Israel.

But for most of its existence, Israel has refused to recognize the Palestinians’ right to a state too. “There was no such thing as Palestinians,” summed up the late Israeli prime minister Golda Meir. “They did not exist.”

Up until recently, the Israelis even continued to build their own settlements in the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem, effectively undermining the possibility of a Palestinian state. And the then-ruling Likud Party voted against allowing the Palestinians their own state.

If the Israelis can change, can Hamas?

Hamas’s new — and duly elected — leaders are certainly saying the right things. Prime Minister Ismail Hanlyeh, for example, says his government is willing to sit down with international mediators and called on Israel to let the peace process go forward so there can be “stability, calm and a complete, just and lasting peace.”

“We are not war seekers nor are we war initiators,” Hanlyeh told the Washington Post. “We are not lovers of blood. We are not interested in a vicious cycle of violence. We are oppressed people with rights. If peace brings us our rights, then this is good.”

Does he mean it?

It’s impossible to know, but our decision to cut off contact with the new and democratically elected government is no way to find out. It will only lead to a greater sense of isolation among Palestinians and confirmation of the belief among too many that there is no way but violence.

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