Above: Global’s Jacques Bourbeau reports on Stephen Harper’s history-making speech before the Israeli parliament – and what effect Harper’s words could have.
In a speech that clearly pleased his Israeli counterpart, Prime Minister Stephen Harper said he would not “single out Israel for criticism on the international stage.”
That line extended to the prime minister refusing to address the issue of Israeli settlements on occupied Palestinian territory, an issue that he also left out of his speech to the Israeli Knesset on Monday evening.
As Israel’s Haaretz noted, Harper “dodged” a question about his opinion on the legality of the settlements. During a meeting with Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas, in Ramallah, Harper brushed off the question and reaffirmed a sentiment he would later say in his Knesset address: “Any attempt to have me, while present in the Middle East, single out the state of Israel for criticism, I will not do,” Harper said.
He said “the positions of the government on the specific matters you mention are well known. They are public, they are known to both parties.”
Harper, a staunch supporter of Israel, is the first Canadian leader to ever address the Knesset.
With loud rounds of applause throughout his speech and approving nods from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Harper asserted his government’s support for the world’s only Jewish state, saying Israel had an “absolute and non-negotiable right to exist” and criticized those questioning its legitimacy.
He also said Israel and Canada don’t always agree on everything. Officially, the Israeli settlements on occupied Palestinian territory would be one of those things – according to documents posted on the Foreign Affairs website.
WATCH: Prime Minister Stephen Harper addresses the Israeli Knesset
The Canadian government, according to the Department of Foreign Affairs, Development and Trade (DFADT), does not support the establishment of Jewish settlements on Palestinian land occupied in 1967 following the Six-Day War.
That includes the Gaza Strip, the West Bank and East Jerusalem, as well as the Golan Heights — a significant part of which Israel annexed from Syria.
“The Fourth Geneva Convention applies in the occupied territories and establishes Israel’s obligations as an occupying power, in particular with respect to the humane treatment of the inhabitants of the occupied territories,” DFADT explains on the “Canadian Policy on Key Issues in the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict” section of its website.
“As referred to in UN Security Council Resolutions 446 and 465, Israeli settlements in the occupied territories are a violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention. The settlements also constitute a serious obstacle to achieving a comprehensive, just and lasting peace.”
The settlements are a recurring focal point of peace talks between the Israelis and Palestinians.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, who is brokering peace talks between the two sides, has also said the United States considers the settlements “to be illegitimate.”
But, Israel wants to maintain a number of its settlements in the West Bank as a condition of agreeing to a peace deal. Reuters reported on Friday Israel wants to keep as much as 13 per cent of the West Bank.
According to a Reuters report last week, there are more than 500,000 Israelis living in settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Israel pulled its settlements out of Gaza in 2005.
Israel, according to the report released in October, increased settlement construction by 70 per cent in the first six months of 2013, compared to the same period a year earlier.
Meanwhile, the Jerusalem Post reported in June there was a 176 per cent increase in construction of settler housing in the two largest Israeli enclaves.
One year ago, the United Nations Human Rights Council released an independent fact-finding report that called on Israel to “halt all settlement activity” in occupied Palestinian territory.
“In compliance with Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, Israel must cease all settlement activities without preconditions,” the fact-finding mission’s chair Christine Chanet said at the time.
The report also suggested the settlement activities could be considered in violation of international criminal law.
“Israel has transferred approximately eight per cent of its citizens into the OPT since the 1970s,” the report said.
Earlier this month, the Israeli government said it had plans to build 1,400 new homes in Jewish settlements.
*With files from The Canadian Press
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