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MAROUN: The Conservatives should reverse a four-decade-old broken promise on Jerusalem

The Conservative Party of Canada is holding a policy convention this week in Halifax. A policy submitted by Vancouver Centre, Notre-Dame-de-Grâce—Westmount is as follows.

“The Conservative Party of Canada recognizes Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. Along with its ancient history as the seat of government, Jerusalem is also now where Israel’s parliament, supreme court, and official residence of its President are located. As such, our party advocates locating the Canadian Embassy in Jerusalem.”

Marie-Danielle Smith from The National Post described this resolution as one of two “gifts to [US President Donald] Trump”.

This resolution should be passed by the Conservative delegates, not because it could be seen as a “gift to Trump” but simply because it is the right thing to do, and it is long overdue.

In December 1949, less than two years after Israel declared its independence, then Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion declared in the Knesset (Israel’s parliament) that Jerusalem was Israel’s capital. Ben-Gurion said, “For the State of Israel there has always been and always will be one capital only – Jerusalem the Eternal. Thus it was 3,000 years ago – and thus it will be, we believe, until the end of time”. In July 1980, the Knesset passed the Jerusalem Basic Law, enshrining by law Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

Under President Bill Clinton, the US congress passed the Jerusalem Embassy Act that became law on November 8, 1995; it recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and mandated the relocation of the US embassy to Jerusalem. Since then, several US Presidents of both parties promised to move the embassy to Jerusalem, but the law allowed the President to invoke a six-month waiver, and until December 2017 each President signed the waiver every six months. In December 2017, President Trump finally decided to deliver on the Jerusalem Embassy Act.

Canada passed no such law, but in 1979, then Progressive Conservative leader Joe Clark promised to move the Canadian embassy to Jerusalem; however, his government backed down on that promise. The CBC reported that the reason for the reversal was concern about the economic impact on Canada due to potential loss of business with Arab countries such as Saudi Arabia.

There are at least three reasons to believe that these economic concerns no longer exist today. The first reason is that the US has already made the move and suffered no negative economic consequences as a result. The second reason is that Canada is already embroiled with Saudi Arabia in a dispute, and that dispute is far more likely to affect Canada economically than is an embassy move. The third reason is that the Arab world is itself slowly moving towards normalization with Israel.

Above all else, however, Canada should move its embassy to Jerusalem because it is the right thing to do. Refusing to do the right thing because of unjustified pressure is exactly what the government of Stephen Harper often denounced as “going along in order to get along”.

The embassy could be located in the western part of Jerusalem that is within the green line (the armistice line of 1948) and therefore not on disputed territory. As such, the move would not change Canada’s official position on the Israel-Arab conflict, shared by all three major parties, in support of a negotiated two-state solution.

The Canadian embassy should be moved out of respect for Israel’s right to choose the location of its own capital, just as we respect any other sovereign country’s right to decide the location of its own capital. Israel is a friend and ally of Canada, and yet on this issue, we have treated Israel with less respect than we treat other countries that we have far less significant ties with.

During a recent visit to Israel, I was surprised to witness how appreciated the US embassy move is in Israel. To Israelis, it represents recognition of the long Jewish history on that land, a recognition that is too often lacking among the international community. Moving the Canadian embassy to Jerusalem would be seen as a great message of friendship from Canadians to Israelis.

Knowing Clark’s broken promise, and knowing the importance that the Harper government attached to our friendship with Israel, Canada’s Conservatives should take this issue particularly seriously. I urge the Conservative party to seize this opportunity to right a wrong that is now four decades old, and, once the next Conservative government is elected, to finally turn this policy into reality.

Fred Maroun

Fred Maroun is a Canadian of Arab origin. He lived through 10 years of civil war in Lebanon, from 1975 to 1984. He writes blogs and op-eds in various publications about the Israel-Arab conflict and other topics, including Times of Israel, New Canadian Media, Gatestone Institute, Jerusalem Online, and Jerusalem Post. His writings have been translated to many languages, including Arabic, Hebrew, French, Polish, German, Italian, Russian and Spanish.

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