Nabil Maarouf, Palestine’s Representative in Canada, discusses the Trudeau Government’s continuation of Stephen Harper’s extreme pro-Israel policies.
Dimitri L.: This is Dimitri Lascaris, reporting from Parliament Hill in Canada’s capital, Ottawa, Ontario. 50 years ago this month, Israel waged the Six-Day War against three of its neighboring Arab states, Egypt, Jordan, and Syria. In the course of that war, began the occupation of the Palestinian territories, the West Bank including Jerusalem, and the heavily-populated enclave of Gaza. 50 years later, the occupation grinds on. Throughout that period, despite purported attempts on behalf of successive Israeli governments to negotiate a peace accord with representatives of the Palestinian people, Israel has continued to construct settlements in violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention. Indeed, virtually the entire international community, including the Canadian government, expressly acknowledges the settlements to be a violation of international law.
To commemorate this event, we have come to Ottawa to speak to the Chief of the Palestinian delegation in Canada, Nabil Maarouf. Nabil Maarouf was formerly a diplomat on behalf of the Palestinian authority in Spain and Turkey, and also served as the Assistant Secretary General for the Organization of Islamic Cooperation. Our discussion with Nabil Maarouf proceeds in two parts. In the first part, we discuss the attitude and policies of the Canadian government towards the Palestinian people and their plight. In the second part, we talk about the increasingly extremist policies of the current Israeli government of Benjamin Netanyahu. This is what Nabil Maarouf had to say. Excellency, thank you very much for joining us today.
Nabil Maarouf: You are welcome.
Dimitri L.: I would like to begin by talking about the duration of this occupation. In June 1967, 50 years ago, the occupation began. During that time, there have been extraordinary efforts made to negotiate a just peace for the Palestinian people. It’s instructive, I think, to look at what has happened during the period of those negotiations. In 1992, 25 years ago before the Oslo Peace Accords where the process began, the West Bank settlements covered 77 kilometers and housed 248,000 Israeli settlers. By 2016, those settlements covered 197 kilometers, so two and a half times approximately, what they covered in 1992. The number of settlers living in them had more than tripled to 763,000. It’s very clear that the peace process has failed to put an end, let alone to result in a dismantling of all of these settlements, which are a clear violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention. In light of these facts, would you agree that, realistically, the only way that we are going to change the behavior of the government of Israel is to ensure that the international community imposes some form of meaningful economic and political penalty on the State of Israel for its violations of human rights law?
Nabil Maarouf: First of all, welcome. Thank you for coming here. In fact, we have to go back for the last 50 years, which is the duration of the occupation. We, as Palestinians, we thought in the beginning that the struggle between Palestine and Israel is a concrete struggle in a way that one side wants to eliminate the other. In the end, we reached to a point where historical reconciliation should be established. Historical reconciliations to be established means that you have to recognize the other part, and you have to abandon your dreams.As a Palestinian, I would like to go back to my village, but I have to recognize that my village now is part of Israel. I have to make this concession in order to take from the Israelis the recognition that the occupied territories in 1967, it is the territories of the State of Palestine. This is our understanding, as Palestinians, when we enter the peace process, that we have to make historical reconciliation. We’re going to abandon our dreams, and we have to recognize the other part. The Israelis should do the same thing. They have to recognize the Palestinian right of self-determination and their right to establish their Palestinian state. Also, they have to recognize that they can live alongside with the Palestinians.
Now, here we can talk about the bad intention and good intention. Our intention was good. We recognized the State of Israel, and we are asking the international community … We abide by the international community resolutions, which says that this is occupied territories, and Israeli has to end this occupation and to allow Palestinian state to be established. This is what our demand. The Israeli intention is to enter the peace process, but as exactly Shamir when he went to Madrid Conference in 1990, he said openly that I’m going to [inaudible 00:05:51] them for 20 years without giving them anything. This is exactly what happened. This is exactly what happened. Through Oslo Agreement, through the peace process, through the negotiations between Palestinians and Israelis, is that they didn’t stop building settlement.As you mentioned, the settlements and the settlers have been grown more than around three times through the negotiations. This reflects the bad intention of the Israeli government that, if you want really peace, and if you want to give over this land to the Palestinians, to the new state, why you are continuing building settlements on it? They are buying time. They want to create new facts on the ground and they want to reach to a point where we have our settlements became big cities and we cannot abandon it. This is the question here and it’s quite clear. Even the French of Israel, they discovered this fact. When the United States of America, when John Kerry told the Israelis that building settlements means you are killing the two-state solution. When you are killing the two-state solution means that you are killing the hope of establishing peace in the area.
Even the Americans, the Israelis are not responding to them. Even the Europeans, the Israelis are not responding to them. In fact, what’s going to happen? By force, we as Palestinians, we cannot force the Israelis to withdraw. We have to have the help and the support and the understanding of the international community. Today, we have the full support of the majority of the international community. We agreed with most, 138 members states all over the world. We agreed with all of these people that the solution should be migration of the Palestinian state. Even that, the Israelis are not responding to anybody.
Dimitri L.: Right. The vast majority of the states of the world have recognized the State of Palestine.
Nabil Maarouf: 138 member states all over the world recognize the State of Palestine.
Dimitri L.: I think that represents over 80% of the human population.
Nabil Maarouf: Now we are a state under occupation. We are asking the international community, the United Nations, the Security Council, to help us in ending the occupation. Frankly speaking, the super powers, the international community, the big countries all over the world, I think they have to impose a solution depending on the criteria which have been adopted by the international community, by the resolutions of the Security Council.
Dimitri L.: When you say impose, the question I want to focus upon, to be clear, is the question of sanctions. In Canada, as you may be aware, our government imposes sanctions, I believe, on 17 to 20 states approximately. One of these states is Russia. The explanation that was given for the imposition of sanctions on Russia was that Russia illegally annexed Crimea. Crimea was historically part of Russia. Prior to the annexation, the Russian government, or the Crimean government such as it was at the time, held a referendum in which over 90% of the population voted for effectively what was a merger with Russia.In Palestine, by contrast, you have the illegal annexation of East Jerusalem, which wasn’t supported by any referendum of the indigenous population. Yet, our government doesn’t impose any sanctions whatsoever on the State of Israel. In fact, confers upon the State of Israel a privileged status. Calls it the only democracy in the Middle East, engages in arms trades with Israel, and so forth. Is this justifiable in your perspective, that the Canadian government would impose sanctions on Russia for the annexation of Crimea, which was supported overwhelmingly by the Crimean population, but would impose not a single sanction on the State of Israel for its illegal annexation of East Jerusalem?
Nabil Maarouf: This is a political question. Canada is one of the big countries all over the world, part of the G7 big countries. Really, I admire Prime Minister Trudeau, when he goes to have affair with Muslim community receiving refugees, supporting the human rights here and there. When it comes to Palestine, the Canadian government takes another position. This is double standard in dealing with the issues all over the world. The virtues of Canada, the principles of the government of Canada, the peace and the human rights and the diversity. When it comes to Palestine, you are not dealing with it in an appropriate way. Look at the web page of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. They are talking about East Jerusalem, West Bank, and Gaza.
Dimitri L.: They say it’s a violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention.
Nabil Maarouf: It is occupied Palestinian territories occupied by Israel. It is applied to the Fourth Geneva Convention. All of what Israel as occupying [inaudible 00:12:21] is doing in this area is illegal. What is the position? I think Canadian government should put sanctions against Israel because they are violating the international law. They have to support the Palestinian people. We are not recognized even in Canada. This is a double standard. I don’t understand to help the refugee in Afghanistan and don’t help the refugee in Palestine. The refugee is the refugee. Self-determination of the aboriginals here, it is like the self-determination of the Palestinian people. Why you recognize this and you didn’t recognize that? This means that either you are not depending on the same basis, or you have double standard position depending on some politics that has nothing to do with principles.
Dimitri L.: Let’s talk a little bit more about the government of Justin Trudeau. I understand you took up your post two days before he actually came into office. As I’m sure you know, Prime Minister Stephen Harper, his predecessor, was widely considered to be the most pro-Israel Prime Minister that Canada had ever had. When the liberal government took power, his initial foreign minister, Stephane Dion, said that they were going to be different from the conservatives. They weren’t going to make the issue of Palestinian rights a partisan issue. They were going to return to the role historically of being an honest broker, assuming that they had ever been an honest broker. Since liberal government has come to power, have they, in fact, changed in a concrete way, in a positive way, their attitude towards the Palestinian people?
I just want to raise their performance at the United Nations. At the United Nations, the Trudeau government has repeatedly voted against resolutions that had overwhelming support of the international community and that condemned Israel’s human rights violations and supported the Palestinian right to self-determination. It was part of a very small number of states, the United States, Canada, and Micronesia, a few island states, that voted against them. Have they actually lived up to their promise of being an honest broker in the dispute between the Palestinian people and Israel?
Nabil Maarouf: I am here. I have been appointed here as representative for Palestine. To be representative for Palestine means that you are a representative of the cause of Palestine. This for us means a lot. It means that you have to work very hard in order bring support to Palestine from everybody all over the world, especially from big countries like Canada. We [think not of changing the government from conservatives to liberals. As a politician, I do know that Canada is a country of institutions. I wasn’t dreaming that the new government, or the new party, is going overnight to change the policy of Canada. I know it will take time, but they should see it properly and change. Frankly speaking, I’m here now since one and half year almost. I did my best. I contacted everybody. I have been, frankly speaking, well received, well respected, by everybody.
Dimitri L.: May I ask if you sought an audience with the foreign minister of Canada? If so, has the foreign minister afforded you an opportunity to meet face-to-face?
Nabil Maarouf: I met all the high-level people in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, except the minister. The minister visited me at house last year. Dion, not the new minister. Whenever I talk to these high-level officials, I feel their sympathy. I feel that they understand what’s going on in Palestine. But you reach with them to a point where they tell you, to this point it’s [inaudible 00:17:33], and after that it’s not our business. This [inaudible 00:17:35] when I ask about changing the name of the delegation here from the Palestinian General Delegation to General Delegation of Palestine. The answer we received from there, that whenever you put the word Palestine, this means that you are talking about the homeland, about the State of Palestine, which Canada doesn’t want to impact this.
I told them most of the Western European countries, they didn’t recognize the State of Palestine, but they open diplomatic mission for Palestine there. Even the United States, the situation with Palestine is like Canada. They didn’t recognize, but American opened all the diplomatic and political channels. This means a big dialogue between both parties happened. What I want here, I want the Canadians to give a chance for the Palestinians to tell their story. Because of this, I’m asking them to invite Palestinians to come here. We are ready to invite and to receive Canadian officials in our country. We would like you to come to our country and to see the things on the ground. Whenever you take a position, you have to take it depending on something you saw, not depending on the stories told by this person or that person. I can tell you, frankly speaking, nothing changed with the relation …
Dimitri L.: You mean nothing is between the Stephen Harper government or the …
Nabil Maarouf: No. Even, frankly speaking, I talked to our embassy in Europe. I asked them to give me how Canada used to vote on the resolutions in the United Nations. In the United Nations, every year we have 16 draft resolutions. We pass it in the General Assembly. They talk about self-determinations, about the human rights, about health, about legal things. Through days of Chretien, Prime Minister Jean Chretien, we used to have … He was a liberal. We used to have 13 yes out of 16.
Dimitri L.: They supported 13 resolutions.
Nabil Maarouf: They supported us. Nowadays, we have only one yes out of the 16.
Dimitri L.: Which one is that that they supported?
Nabil Maarouf: Assistance.
Dimitri L.: Right. Economic assistance to the Palestinians.
Nabil Maarouf: I took this report to the Minister of Foreign Affairs. I told them, “Look, we want the new liberals to vote as the old liberals vote.” Also, the contents of this resolution, it is related to self-determination to the assistance, to the human rights. They didn’t respond, frankly speaking. Some of them, they say that maybe [inaudible 00:21:45]. We told them. We give them an offer. Let us confirm a joint committee between us, our office in Europe, and somebody from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Or between us here and the Ministry. Give us your observations on the [inaudible 00:22:07]. We are ready to accept your reservations on that. Even that, we received nothing. We are trying our best. We love to have good relation with Canada. We love to promote our relation with Canada. Frankly speaking, it’s blocked. The only positive things which happened in the last year, is the decision taken regarding UNRWA.
Dimitri L.: To give funding to the refugee agency [crosstalk 00:22:51].
Nabil Maarouf: And the visits done to Palestine by the governor general and premier of Ontario and premier of Quebec. This is the only things happen. I’m asking them about the necessity of having the Minister of Foreign Affairs to visit Palestine and to see the things there. Minister Dion [inaudible 00:23:27] to visit Palestine on 17th and 18th of January after being in office more than one year. Then, also, he canceled that.
Dimitri L.: He canceled as a result of his having been replaced by Chrystia Freeland, or he canceled it on his own.
Nabil Maarouf: Before he got replaced.
Dimitri L.: Was there a reason given to the delegation about this?
Nabil Maarouf: No. They say we postpone it.
Dimitri L.: Right.
Nabil Maarouf: You know?
Dimitri L.: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Nabil Maarouf: The new minister also is not ready. Until now, we didn’t receive from them any direction that they are going to visit the area. Frankly speaking, plus if you go to the letter issued by the Prime Minister about the mandate of the Foreign Ministry, Middle East and Palestine is not there. It’s not in the letter of mandate. The question is here. Palestine, if they accept it or don’t accept it, Palestine is a fact. Palestine, it is the core of all the problems happen in the whole Middle East, the bigger Middle East. If you solve the issue of Palestine, this means that you are going to reduce the tension in the area. You will establish peace, real peace, and stability in the whole area. This is the fact.
We tried here in Canada. I told them. We held a conference where we invited the representative of the Secretary General of the Arab Legion, Secretary General of OIC, and United Nation committee on Palestine and Europe. All these people, they told through their speeches that Palestine is the core. Help Palestine in order to also restore or enhance the relation between all these countries and Canada. You know about Prime Minister Trudeau asked for the membership of the Security Council. You know Canada last time failed to get this passed because of the position on Palestine. Here, the OIC representative told me …
Dimitri L.: That’s the Organization of Islamic Cooperation?
Nabil Maarouf: Yes. The Organization of Islamic Cooperation. They informed officially the Ministry of Foreign Affairs we are ready to form a joint committee to discuss the coming membership of Canada to the Security Council. It means we are ready, 57 member states, to help Canada in having the seat in the Security Council. But we do need, also, the help of Canada regarding the Palestinian issue. This is the situation. We hope that the things will move positively in the future. I don’t know.
Dimitri L.: In this part of our interview, we’ve been focusing on the Canadian government. I’d like to take a pause. In the second part of our interview, I’d like to talk to you about the policies of the Netanyahu government, particularly in the very recent past. I thank you very much for joining us. We’ll resume that discussion in part two. This is Dimitri Lascaris with The Real News.