Israeli provocations could spark Palestinian violence, Canadian FM says


Israel could reignite Palestinian violence if it persists with settlement building and evictions of east Jerusalem Arab, Canadian Foreign Minister Marc Garneau told reporters Monday as he wrapped up his trip to the region.

“We need to lower the temperature,” Garneau said, adding that “we still have a fragile ceasefire,” referring to May’s 11-day Gaza war.

“From Canada’s perspective, it was important as a friend to Israel that we get the message across that the continued building of settlements and the evictions and demolitions in east Jerusalem should cease,” he said.

“That is potentially provocative at a time when we want to lower the temperature and not provide any excuse for it to flare up again,” he added.

Garneau said he underscored this message in his meeting with Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and other Israeli officials.

The Prime Minister’s Office did not issue a statement or photo of the meeting, and Bennett did not tweet about it, although he publicized his phone conversation with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The trip marked Garneau’s fifth visit to Israel and his first since he took office in January. He is also the first foreign minister to arrive in the country since the government was sworn in last month.

Settlements have often been a point of tension between Israel and Canada, which otherwise are strong allies.

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict was one of the focal points of Garneau’s trip, which also included a stop in Jordan and a visit to the Palestinian territories, where he met with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

The Palestinians are prepared to return to the political process with Israel “to end the occupation and achieve comprehensive peace, in accordance with international resolutions, under the auspices of the Quartet” members – the US, Russia, the United Nations and the European Union, Abbas told Garneau.

He stressed the importance of having a political horizon and giving hope to the Palestinians, according to the PA’s official news agency WAFA.

Abbas emphasized the need to expedite the process of rebuilding the Gaza Strip and providing aid to the Palestinians, WAFA reported.

The PA government in Ramallah is prepared to contribute to the reconstruction effort and work toward ending the division between the West Bank and the Hamas-ruled coastal enclave, Abbas told Garneau.

He expressed appreciation for Canada’s support “for the right of the Palestinians to self-determination, its opposition to settlement expansion, its refusal to expel Palestinians from their homes in east Jerusalem and its repeated calls for respecting the historical situation in religious sites,” the report said.

Abbas thanked Canada for the humanitarian aid it provides to the Gaza Strip, the support provided to the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) and its assistance in combating the coronavirus epidemic.

Abbas told his Canadian guest he would call new general elections as soon as Israel agrees to allow a vote in Jerusalem.

In April, Abbas called off the parliamentary and presidential elections that were supposed to take place on May 22 and July 31, respectively, under the pretext that Israel did not reply to the Palestinians’ request to hold the elections in Jerusalem.

PA Foreign Minister Riad Malki, who also met with Garneau, accused Israel of “waging war” on Palestinians in Jerusalem and Area C of the West Bank, which is exclusively controlled by Israel. The international community must “protect the rights of the Palestinians, including the right to self-determination,” he said.

Garneau visited Ramallah amid a West Bank crackdown by PA security forces on political activists, social-media users and journalists.

Abbas continues to face widespread criticism over the death of anti-corruption activist Nizar Banat, who was reportedly beaten to death by PA security officers in Hebron on June 24.

Over the past week, thousands of Palestinians have taken to the streets to demand Abbas’s removal from office. The protesters have also demanded that those responsible for Banat’s death be brought to justice.

On Monday, Garneau told reporters he had spoken with PA officials about his “grave concern that one Palestinian activist [Banat] was killed in the custody of Palestinian security forces.”

“This was something we were shocked by,” he said. “We called for a full and open transparent accounting, and those responsible must be held accountable.”

Garneau called on the PA to hold elections as soon as possible so that the Palestinian people could express themselves democratically.

In his meeting with Abbas, Garneau also expressed Canada’s keenness to establish peace in the region, its commitment to achieving peace based on the principle of the two-state solution, establishing security and stability and continuing to provide relief and assistance to UNRWA, WAFA reported.

Canada’s commitment to two states for two peoples was a point he underscored with reporters as well. But the horizon was not suitable now to achieve a final-status agreement, he said, adding that the focus must now be on preventing the resumption of violence.

“Our long-standing position has been that ultimately the best long solution is two states for two people,” Garneau said. “We have always advocated for that. [But] that is over the horizon at this immediate time… We need a cooling-off period so that if the temperature goes down, we can start thinking of ways we can look for that long-term solution.”


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