This weekend, Prime Minister Stephen Harper will make his first ever trip to the state of Israel.

Given Canada’s unwavering and unequivocal support of the Jewish state, it is perhaps odd that the Prime Minister has waited eight years to visit the Holy land.  Certainly, Canada has displaced the United States as Israel’s best friend, especially this week, as Israel was forced to engage in diplomatic damage control after its Defence Minister criticized US Secretary of State, John Kerry for his unrealistic expectations of Israel in the elusive Middle East peace process.

Israel has been in the Canadian news a lot this week.  Lisa LaFlamme and the CTV National News were broadcasting live from Old Jerusalem.  Monday was the funeral for former Israeli Prime Minister, Ariel Sharon, a polarizing soldier and politician if there ever was one.  And last week, Canada appointed a non-diplomat to the posting of its Ambassador to Israel, Toronto lawyer, Vivian Bercovici.

Bercovici’s appointment was criticised in some circles because she is a non-diplomat and because she is an unabashed supporter and defender of Israel.  I believe these criticisms are entirely without merit.  Ms. Bercovici is an author, lawyer and professor at the University of Toronto with a post graduate degree in Middle East Studies.  To the extent that her views align with the position of the Canadian Government on Israel, she is eminently qualified to represent Canada in Tel Aviv.

But it is Canada’s unequivocal support of Israel that is, to some extent, isolating us internationally.

I had the pleasure of visiting Israel and the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah in 2010.  I certainly appreciate Israel’s unique security dilemma, being a small country surrounded almost exclusively by unsympathetic neighbors.  I also respect Israel for being a functional democracy in an extremely unstable Middle East.

However, to hold it entirely blameless in the perpetually elusive peace process is neither supported by history nor does it promote conciliation.  Increasingly, Canada’s position on Israel is becoming almost partisan, essentially mirroring the policies of Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud Party.

Given the instability of Israeli domestic politics, what happens if the Likud Yisrael Beiteinu Coalition loses control of the Knesset (Parliament)? Would Canada’s foreign policy change if Israelis elected a coalition less focused on its own security and more focused on peace in the Middle East?

In June of 2009, President Barack Obama announced that the United States did not accept the “legitimacy of continued Israeli settlements in disputed territories in the West Bank” (of the Jordan River). In November 2009, Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu announced a partial ten month freeze plan on settlement construction.  Objective analysis would reveal that this gesture had no significant effect on actual settlement construction, which continues to this day.

The Israeli government believes that settlement construction is not the impediment to peace. Palestinian recognition of a Jewish state or the “right to exist” within secure borders is the real issue according to Israel.  Fair enough and this piece will not even attempt to address Palestinian Authority President’s Mahmoud Abbas’s various statements and actions that are an impediment to Middle East harmony, because, this piece is about Israel and Canadian foreign policy.

For a two state solution to work, each side must compromise and bargain in good faith.  Israel might be correct that settlement construction is a distraction compared to the more longstanding issues of displaced Palestinians’ right of return to their pre-1948 homes and what to do with Jerusalem.  But Israel cannot unilaterally define the terms in dispute and the reality is that construction of settlements is seen as a land grab by the Palestinian Authority.

Even the polarizing Ariel Sharon understood the irritant that settlement construction posed when, as Prime Minister in 2005, he instructed unilateral Israeli disengagement in the Gaza Strip.

This is complicated and neither side is blameless.  However, mediation and conciliation requires some degree of neutrality and recognition of both parties’ positions, needs, interests and demands.

If the international community is to help broker an elusive Middle East Peace Accord, it must do so from an objective position of neutrality.  Canada’s overt support and cheerleading for one side compromises its ability to contribute meaningfully to that process.



  1. Chris Fry
    January 17, 2014 at 6:47 pm

    Thank you for this informative and insightful post. Although I do not agree with your political viewpoint at all times, you are a true gentleman statesman in the fashion of the likes of Joe Clark, and I mean that in a most sincere and respectful way.

  2. UsedtovotePC
    January 17, 2014 at 8:27 pm

    Why aren’t you the leader???

    Not to be overly harsh towards your former colleagues, but you are one of very few thoughtful members of the CPC. I welcome your integrity, your willingness to admit that many situations are not black and white and that blind committment to a position does not make for sound policy. I also want to thank you for taking the time to associate conservatism (in its original form, before we descended into the current leftwing-rightwing hatefest) with reason and willingness to adjust. The inflexibility and openly expressed contempt for those who present arguments against government policy has been harmful to democracy in Canada. We have sunk into a place where we cannot discuss issues together. I do appreciate that you are not blindly loyal but loyal to principles.

  3. kelly
    January 18, 2014 at 8:38 am

    Wow ! Mr Rathgeber, I think many more conservatives need to follow your lead and say what they really think on issues such as this as well as other things. Even though I am no conservative I can agree with some of what you are saying. I think if we can get beyond hockey politics most of us would realize that we all have more in common than we thought and only want what is best for our country

  4. ivana
    January 18, 2014 at 9:49 am

    Although I am left of the left, I admire you for leaving the goose-steppers and having the courage to criticize their unqualified endorsement of Israel. I do suggest you fix the title of your post though as “POSITITON” is not a word and your former colleagues may not take you seriously. Also “Barack” has only one “r”.


    • Roberta Beek
      January 18, 2014 at 4:02 pm

      Thank you for your words of encouragement to Mr. Rathgeber . I have petitioned the CBC and CTV to engage him ( and Elizabeth May) on a regular basis in debate and commentary. Most especially, thank you for your assistance in correcting errors ion his report. Surely he will be grateful for pointing them out. I thought I was alone in trying to get others to show some interest in grammar, spelling, construction etc. My experience has been that most media types (CTV/CBC) are not of the opinion that those things matter!

  5. DAS
    January 18, 2014 at 11:45 am

    Thank you for your honest and informative view on the Arab Israeli conflict, however, unfortunately the current leader of CPC is willing to sell any thing for financial gene

  6. Roberta Beek
    January 18, 2014 at 3:55 pm

    It gives me such hope to encounter a politician of the Conservative stripe who is willing and able to express an informed opinion based on logic, fact (and all those valuable things) and not merely on partisanship. Please continue to give us your opinions which fuel a reasoned debate.