Canada refused to support the UN General Assembly resolution this week that rebuked the Trump administration’s recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. In doing so, the Trudeau government undermined its claim to be cutting a new foreign policy path, distinct from the Harper government. The decision also puts in jeopardy a key foreign policy priority — winning election in 2020 to the UN Security Council.
An overwhelming number of countries, including virtually all of Canada’s key allies, voted in favour of the resolution; but Canada abstained on the vote. Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland gave only the slimmest of reasons for doing so, saying in a brief statement that Canada was “…disappointed that this resolution is one-sided and does not advance prospects for peace to which we aspire.”
But in what way is the resolution “one-sided”? Such a claim implies that the resolution was biased, unjustly favouring one party. That in turn suggests more than one party was taking action that deserved condemnation. This is not the case, however.
The UN General Assembly Resolution was prompted by the actions of one party only — the decision by President Trump to unilaterally recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. Presumably, the Palestinians (or their supporters?) are the other “side” — necessary if Minister Freeland’s complaint is to make any sense. But the Palestinians have taken no equivalent, unilateral move regarding Jerusalem. All they have done is protest Trump’s decision.
Moreover, the Palestinian objections to Trump’s provocative act are broadly aligned with Canadian policy regarding Jerusalem; namely, that its status should be resolved through negotiations leading to a final peace agreement. As everyone knows, such an agreement is only possible if it allows both Israel and Palestine to establish their capitals in Jerusalem, Israel in the western part of the city, Palestine in the east.
In fact, the text of the General Assembly resolution is remarkably balanced. It refers to and is based on longstanding UN resolutions: it asks all states to refrain from establishing diplomatic missions in Jerusalem (be they to Israel or Palestine); it reiterates that Jerusalem’s final status should be negotiated between the parties; and demands that the security and rights, including religious freedoms, of all who live there must be respected.
The resolution is virtually identical to the draft UN Security Council resolution that the US earlier vetoed — a text that all 14 other Security Council members supported, including the UK, France, Italy, Japan, Sweden, and Ukraine.
More plausible than the claim of a “one-sided” resolution, is the fact of a one-sided Canadian policy. Like the Harper government, the Liberals are showing they pay only lip-service to their official position for a negotiated, two-state solution that ends the illegal Israeli occupation of Palestinian lands, in line with decades-old UN resolutions. Manifestly, Trump’s reckless act makes that outcome less likely.
To be fair to the government, they’re in a tight spot. They are at the mercy of a US president whose foreign policy is a toxic brew — one part thuggery, one part nativist ignorance, and the rest mere whimsy. The ongoing NAFTA negotiations are just one of many crucial issues where Canada depends on maintaining good relations with President Trump. And Trump himself made the UN vote a loyalty test, promising those voting in favour would suffer consequences.
Yet, Canada is hardly alone in worrying about the consequences of not toeing the US line. Many weaker and more exposed countries took a principled stand, refusing to bow to Trump’s thuggery. Rather than join this group, which includes almost all our European allies, Canada chose to align itself with an abstaining group of fringe, right-wing European governments — Hungary, Czech Republic, Poland, and Croatia.
The lesson for those governments who might support our Security Council bid is all too clear. At the UN, Canada seems prepared to prioritize its relations with President Trump over its commitment to international rules — even those that reflect its own official policies. If so, does the world really “need more Canada”?