Harper's moral clarity

At least the PM doesn't mince words when it comes to the Mideast, despite the political cost

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The Gazette, Monday, July 24, 2006

Even staunch supporters of Israel have been troubled by its disproportionate response to the provocation by Hezbollah. It's one thing to take down a terrorist organization based in southern Lebanon, and quite another to take out the airport in Beirut.

Among other consequences, this precluded an airlift of civilians, including tens of thousands of Lebanese Canadians seeking an exit from a war zone.

There was nothing measured about the Israeli response. Stephen Harper had that part of it wrong.

That being said, there is something refreshing, a quality of moral clarity, about the way Harper has taken Israel's side in the latest outbreak of hostilities in the Middle East.

He sees no moral equivalency, none at all, between Israel and Hezbollah, between a democracy and a terrorist organization pledged to its destruction.

Good for him.

Peace process, what peace process? "The current Palestinian government is not committed to a peace process," Harper said last week. He's right about that, too.

As for the hand-wringing by Liberal leader Bill Graham and others about Canada abandoning its honest-broker role in the region, that greatly exaggerates our very modest influence in the Middle East. If we were honest, at this point, we would admit there's nothing to broker.

Canada's position on the Middle East has historically been that we support Israel's right to exist in peace within secure borders, while equally supporting the idea of a Palestinian state. But Hezbollah in Lebanon, and the Hamas Palestinian government, don't support Israel's right to exist, and if they could, with the help of Syria and financing from Iran, would drive the Israelis into the sea.

As Harper said: "There is a crisis because of the actions of Hamas and the actions of Hezbollah." Exactly. Who kidnapped Israeli soldiers? Who fired rockets into Israeli neighbourhoods?

This is an interesting point of departure - the prime minister dares to speak truth, not to power, but to terror.

You can be certain that Harper's unambiguous language was not written at Foreign Affairs. They don't do plain speaking over there. They also like to be on both sides of this issue.

But the prime minister is making foreign policy himself, and he is realigning it significantly in the Middle East, as well as with the United States, to reflect first principles.

He can't be doing it for the votes. The Jewish community in Canada votes overwhelmingly Liberal. Israel never had a better friend in Canada, until now, than Brian Mulroney, and it never got him anywhere with Jewish voters. There are also twice as many Muslim as Jewish voters in this country, and they're not happy with Harper choosing sides. This is not even to mention the anguish in Canada's Lebanese community, largely based in Montreal and Ottawa. As many as 50,000 Canadians, holidayers and dual citizens alike, found themselves stranded in the middle of a war zone last week.

If there's no political gain in it for Harper, the only reason for him to be taking such a clear stand in favour of Israel is that he's acting out of conviction.

Harper has clearly aligned Canada on this issue with its traditional allies, the United States and Britain, as opposed to the Europeans at the G8 summit who called for a ceasefire and negotiations.

That's not a bad place for Canada to be, since there is no solution to any issue in the Middle East without the engagement and leadership of the United States. To the extent that we have any influence in the world, it is measured by our influence in Washington.

Moreover, the Americans are not alone in supporting the Israelis in their apparent determination to take out Hezbollah. The Egyptians, the Jordanians and the Saudis all regard Hezbollah as a destabilizing influence, and are particularly concerned by its being financed by the wacko regime in Tehran. And even as the Lebanese issued anguished appeals for help, they, too, would like to be rid of Hezbollah.

While the Israeli response to Hezbollah's provocation has been excessive, resulting in tragic collateral damage in Lebanon, Harper's clear position is a return to an important first principle of Canadian foreign policy.

Canada recognized Israel in 1948 in a letter from the foreign minister, Lester B. Pearson. "The state of Israel has, in the opinion of the Canadian government, given satisfactory proof that it complies with the conditions of statehood," wrote the future Nobel laureate. "These essential conditions are generally recognized to be external independence, and effective government within a reasonably well defined territory."

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