Pundits already are busy deciphering the performance of Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his new foreign policy team at the just completed Group of Eight Summit in France. The G-8 meeting was convened amid pivotal crises ranging from global debt to human rights to nuclear energy safety, and how to nurture the complex Arab Spring impacting on 400 million people in the Middle East.
Canada is no injury-time substitute in this game. It has paid in blood and treasure in Afghanistan, is involved in the NATO campaign in Libya against Moammar Gadhafi and is a respected international aid donor.
So this time, what Harper had to say surely got a serious hearing from his peers, including President Obama, as nations as diverse as Russia, England and Japan strove for consensus.
They found some. The official communique discussed the role of the Internet, nuclear safety and support for development of the sub-Sahara region in Africa. G-8 leaders also apparently agreed that Gadhafi and Yemen’s president, Ali Abdullah Saleh, must go. On Syria, however, the leaders could agree only that they were “appalled” by the regime’s actions and demanded an end to the killings of protesters.
Most significant, the leaders sent a powerful signal of continued support for the Arab Spring by announcing $20 billion in assistance for the democratic transformations in Egypt and Tunisia.
And then the G-8 leaders added, “We are convinced that the historical changes throughout the region make the solution of the Israeli-Palestine conflict through negotiations more important, not less. … We urge both parties to engage without delay in substantive talks with a view to concluding a framework agreement on all final status issues.”
That declaration came close to doing something that the overwhelming majority of protesters from Tunisia to Damascus never asked for: linking their drive for freedom to the Israel-Palestinian conflict. Historically, such emotional pandering has been cynically deployed by every Mideast tyrant, from Saddam Hussein to Bashir Assad, to deflect from serious domestic problems. And it never helped a single Palestinian.
The masses yearning for freedom from Tehran to Cairo have earned our support by courageously putting their lives on the line. That should be the primary focus of North Americans’ diplomatic, political and economic support.
Which brings us to the Israel-Palestine conflict.
It is no secret that Harper was the only G-8 leader who rejected Obama’s new push for a two-state solution based on the 1967 borders. Harper ultimately prevailed against the pressure to go along with the posturing of the majority.
While consensus building, especially in diplomacy, is an important goal and powerful tool, Harper’s position is that this time the majority is wrong.
For Israelis who have fought five wars and absorbed suicide bombers and thousands of missiles, size counts. Even including the West Bank and the Golan Heights, Israel is 2,700 square miles smaller than Vancouver Island.
Israelis cannot go back to an “adjusted” version of its indefensible pre-1967 lines—dubbed the “Auschwitz borders” by the late Foreign Minister Abba Eban. If they did, they would still be facing 60,000 Iranian-supplied missiles from Hezbollah at the Lebanese border in the North and genocidal Hamas in Gaza.
Israelis also would have to fear a renewed wave of suicide bombers who could literally walk from the West Bank into major Israeli urban areas, including Jerusalem.
Speaking of the Holy City, since 1967, the undivided city has facilitated millions of pilgrims—Jewish, Christian and Muslim—and maintained the status quo of the Muslim presence on the Temple Mount, the holiest site of Judaism. No Israeli would ever agree to have to show their passport in order to pray at the Western Wall.
Stephen Harper has gained the trust and admiration of citizens of Israel and supporters of the Jewish state. On core issues of human rights, the United Nations and the Middle East, he has often broken loose from the obscurity and safety of the pack and exhibited real leadership.
Harper yanked Canada out of the so-called Durban II conference on racism when Washington dithered for months. Only when Iran’s President Ahmadinejad was given the opening keynote did the United States and most European Union members wake up and do the right thing. A few months ago at an Interparliamentary Conference in Ottawa, Harper delivered a blistering public rebuke to the largely ignored resurgence of worldwide anti-Semitism.
Now, at the G-8 Summit, he stood firm against shoving Israel down the gangplank of indefensible borders and another deadly war.
Harper often has been a lonely voice struggling against the din of politically correct attacks on Israel’s legitimacy and security. We can only hope that as he begins his new term as Canada’s leader that his lonely voice of reason will help calm the roiled Middle East and help set the stage for Israeli-Palestinian talks based on mutual respect and sacrifice.
(Rabbi Marvin Hier is the dean and founder of the Simon Wiesenthal Center. Rabbi Abraham Cooper is the center’s associate dean.)