POLITICS

Palestinians hoping for Canadian aid increase for education during Harper trip

01/16/2014 04:32 EST | Updated 03/18/2014 05:59 EDT
OTTAWA - Canada is looking at boosting aid to the West Bank in an area considered critical by Israel — educating young Palestinians to stop hating their Jewish neighbours.

Palestinian and Jewish-Canadian officials say Prime Minister Stephen Harper will likely announce a replenishment of Canadian development assistance when he makes his landmark visit to the West Bank next week.

"We welcome the possibility of further co-operation in the realm of education," the top Palestinian diplomat in Canada, Said Hamad, said in a statement Thursday.

"We appreciate Canada's continued advocacy on behalf of the two-state solution, its commitment to Palestinian economic development, and its support for the Palestinian justice and security sectors."

Canada's five-year, $300-million aid commitment to the Palestinian Authority expired last March, but it was extended for one year because not all the money had been spent.

Shimon Fogel, head of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs, is travelling with Harper's entourage to the Middle East this weekend and says an announcement of further aid to the Palestinians is almost certainly on the agenda.

"There's a lot of important stuff that they're trying to accomplish with the Palestinians, and I would be really surprised if this visit doesn't result in another phase of substantial Canadian financial support for the Palestinians," he said in an interview Thursday.

The previous $300-million investment "reflects this government's commitment to the two-state solution and to providing the Palestinians with enhanced capacity to develop a civil society and to emerge as a democracy," Fogel said.

"I would be very surprised if Canada doesn't use this trip as an opportunity to reaffirm that kind of support."

Harper's visit to the West Bank will follow four days in Israel, where he'll make history as the first Canadian leader to address the nation's parliament on Monday.

Canadian funding to Palestinians has been focused on building the Palestinian economy and helping them properly govern themselves. It has targeted three areas: programs aimed at strengthening the justice system, providing food security and measures to help spur economic growth.

Now, spending in a new area is under discussion: the Palestinian education system, which Israel sees as a potential breeding ground for a future generation of terrorists.

Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird, who himself travelled to the West Bank last March, recently pledged to extend Canadian aid to the Palestinians. He has called that funding some of the country's best-spent development dollars.

Canada also recently gave $5 million to an economic development initiative spearheaded by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry as part of his renewed peace effort.

And while the Israeli government welcomes the foreign aid for Palestinians, it would also like to see more money targeted at education.

Rafael Barak, the Israeli ambassador, told The Canadian Press that teaching young Palestinians to stop hating Israelis is the key to building a lasting peace.

"Peace — you don't build it only with a peace treaty but also in normal acts of life in which the education of the young is something very important," he said in a recent interview.

"This should be done by the Palestinians, but definitely there can be a contribution from Canada or other countries."

Barak singled out the curriculum in Palestinian schools as a serious trouble spot.

"We find that certain textbooks from the Palestinians, they don't recognize the fact that there is a state of Israel, and hatred is still part of some of the messages. So there are elements which do not contribute to peace, and this should be changed."

A senior Israeli government official, who would only speak on the condition of anonymity, also singled out Palestinian schools as a problem.

Peace with the Palestinians can only be achieved, he said, "when they stop educating their kids from kindergarten to hate us, to wear explosive belts, to kill … to admire the homicide bombers as role models."

The official said he delivered that message when he was in Ottawa recently for meetings with the Harper government.

Irwin Cotler, the former Liberal justice minister, says Canada can assist the Palestinians in ways that go beyond simply increasing foreign aid dollars.

"One of the things that is being missed in the peace process work, which I otherwise support, is the need for institution-building in the Palestinian Authority," he said in an interview Thursday from Jerusalem, where he is travelling separately from the Harper delegation.

"If you want an independent state, it should be a democratic state. That means rights protections, promotion of the rule of law, an independent judiciary — here, I think, Canada can play a role in a bilateral fashion of just sharing experience and expertise."

As a former cabinet minister, Cotler travelled to Egypt, Israel, Palestine and Jordan and was in the process of arranging a "justice summit" to be held in Ottawa with officials from all four countries. The initiative died when the Liberals were defeated in 2005.

"This would have given Canada a distinguishable role to play in the building of a justice system, one which I thought would have a peace dividend, because we'd all be working together," Cotler said.

"Regrettably it wasn't followed up, and I always thought that was something that we could have really worked on, and that we still could work on."

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