POLITICS

Canada could play role in Mideast peace talks, says World Jewish Congress

05/16/2012 05:55 EDT | Updated 07/16/2012 05:12 EDT
OTTAWA - Canada is likely to be invited to play a larger role in Middle East negotiations, says the head of an international Jewish organization.

Ronald Lauder, president of the World Jewish Congress, met with Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Foreign Minister John Baird in Ottawa on Wednesday to discuss the situation in the Middle East, as well as anti-Semitism.

Following a new coalition government in Israel, a revitalized course could be set for peace with the Palestinians, Lauder said in an interview with The Canadian Press.

"I believe that in the coming months, Canada can play a role and I think will be invited to play a role," he said.

Both the Israeli prime minister and president visited Canada this spring to express support for the strong pro-Israel policies of the Harper government.

A spokesman for Baird said the minister last spoke to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu last week to express condolences on the death of his father.

They also talked about Netanyahu's new coalition government, formed after an alliance with Israel's major opposition party.

While peace talks have been stalled for three years, the new government has created hope that they could resume.

"Canada's long-standing position on a negotiated, two-state solution has not changed," Joseph Lavoie said in an email.

"Our government always stands ready to work in a constructive way to help solve international disputes."

In a recent interview with Policy Options magazine, Baird discussed his government's Middle East policy.

"Canada's not going to be an honest broker between an international terrorist organization and a liberal democracy, when the great struggle of our generation is the struggle between liberal democracies and international terrorist organizations," he said.

The prime minister's office would not comment on Harper's meeting with Lauder.

Critics have said the Harper government's resolutely pro-Israel stance has seen Canada lose credibility on the world stage.

But Lauder, also a former U.S. ambassador, said that as he travels the world, he hears only good things about Canadian foreign policy.

"Today it is a very dangerous world out there, there are very few true leaders out there," Lauder said.

"(Harper) has been a true leader. He spoke his mind."

This week, Harper heads to the G8 meetings at Camp David.

At last year's meeting, he thwarted efforts to have the final communique include the demand that negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians take as the starting point the 1967 borders.

His office later denied reports that he'd spoken with Israeli leadership in advance of the meetings in order to discuss the resolution.

After the Camp David talks, Harper is off to the NATO summit in Chicago.

Israel was not invited to the summit, though other partner nations of the alliance were.

Some reports have suggested Turkey blocked Israel's invitation, but the U.S. State Department said that wasn't true.

Lauder, who also once served as the U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defence for European & NATO Affairs, said Israel shouldn't be at NATO because it's not a member.

He said NATO is in a difficult position these days, given the global economy and situations in Libya, Syria and Iran.

With all the turmoil, the Israel-Palestinian issue doesn't attract as much attention anymore, he said.

"It is good in a sense that it allows the two parties to work together quietly," he said.

"It's bad because the issues are so gigantic, a peace treaty would almost be meaningless at times."

Lauder, the son of cosmetic company founders Estee and Joseph Lauder, has been the president of the World Jewish Congress since 2007.

The group represents Jewish communities in over 100 countries and he said they are now working to beef up their presence in Canada in part to combat anti-Semitism.

Statistics Canada reported last month that hate crimes against the Jewish faith were the most common type of religiously motivated hate crime reported in 2010, though the numbers of such crimes are declining.

Lauder said anti-Semitism continues to be a global problem, but said in Canada it has nothing to do with the country's pro-Israel stance.

"It has a lot to do with what's happening in the world," Lauder said, noting tough economic times often result in people searching for scapegoats.