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Three Thoughts for Canada's Pro-Israel Community

07/27/2014 10:15 EDT | Updated 09/26/2014 05:59 EDT
Lior Mizrahi via Getty Images
SDEROT, ISRAEL - JULY 20: (ISRAEL OUT) A man stands with an Israeli flag on a hill overlooking the Gaza Strip on July 20, 2014 near Sderot, Israel. Thirteen Israeli soldiers were killed Sunday in battle in the Gaza Strip, bringing the number of Israeli fatalities over the course of the operation to 20. At least 130 Palestinians have been killed since Israel began its ground incursion last week. (Photo by Lior Mizrahi/Getty Images)

Let's get right to the point. As the third major eruption of violence between Hamas and Israel since 2008 drags on, I have so far identified three unconventional questions intended for dwelling upon by those who, like me, consider themselves to be friends of Israel in Canada.

These are intended to be open-ended, neutral, but difficult questions with the purpose simply of aiding our communal reflection process on complex issues. I am not yet certain how to answer them and would appreciate any feedback that is objective and reasoned.

1) Is it time for a second disengagement from Gaza?

Israel's unilateral withdrawal from the Gaza Strip in 2005 was not exclusively designed to advance the Israeli-Palestinian peace process -- it also included an important strategic component. With Israel's infantry no longer tied down in policing the Gaza Strip, its military gained added flexibility in dealing with security-related issues on other fronts.

A similar logic was employed by Menachem Begin in 1979: By making peace with Egypt, Israel could launch Operation Peace to the Galilee in 1982 and evict the Palestine Liberation Organization from Lebanon without fearing military reprisal from Cairo on its southern border.

Abducted Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit has been released, eliminating one reason for Israel continuing its seven-year-old blockade of the Gaza Strip. Furthermore, Israel already dropped its blockade of Lebanon following its war with Hezbollah in 2006. An Iranian proxy on Israel's border is already capable of arming itself to the tooth.

With the Gaza Strip able to have its own airport and seaport, it would be responsible for its own economic development. Would Israel putting an end to its naval blockade of the Gaza Strip cause a meaningful rift between pro-Palestinian activists and anti-Israel ones? Furthermore, if coupled with a more aggressive American stance against revolutionary powers in the Gulf (e.g., Iran), would it alter the balance of power in the Levant in a manner that is conducive or harmful to broader Middle Eastern stability?

2) Is it time finally to face the music?

Despite the usual refrains from everyone and his dog calling for a two-state solution, it should be blatantly obvious to everyone that the Israeli-Palestinian peace process has been over for a very long time. Attempts at constructive unilateralism from the Israeli side, as we saw in 2005, led to a terrorist takeover and massive social unrest within Israel. And that's just the Gaza Strip, a region of comparatively little strategic significance to Jerusalem and that boasted but a minor contingent of Israeli settlers.

The peace process is fundamentally stuck. Israel's bottom-line security requirements in the current geopolitical climate (e.g., control over the Jordan Rift Valley) would never be accepted by the Palestinian side. Nor will the Jewish state be prepared to relive the experiences of 1990s and early 2000s, during which, from Israel's perspective, Israeli concessions and assistance were met with a tsunami of terrorism.

Over the long-term, either there will be some sort of modus vivendi that will informally be reached between the parties, or the United States will impose its will if it truly believes this is necessary before its pivot toward Asia is complete.

This raises an important question. If there is to be no solution (be it negotiated or imposed by Israel) to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict for the foreseeable future, then in the event that violence does erupt between Israel and one of its neighbours, should Western states and pro-Israel advocates emphasize: (a) humanitarian goals, such as the need for an quick ceasefire in order to reduce the short-term number of casualties or (b) the need for Israel to accomplish its relevant strategic goals if it is clear that this will lead to greater long-term regional stability?

3) Is it time we re-examine how Canada's foreign policy is developed?

Political parties rely on votes from Canada's ethnocultural groups at election time. Yet, from the perspective of those groups that tend to have a pro-Palestinian inclination, their opinions are not incorporated into Canadian foreign policy. Indeed, both the Conservative and Liberal Parties have been unambiguously pro-Israel in their principal pronouncements over the course of Operation Protective Edge.

So, seeing as we live in a democracy, shouldn't our foreign policy reflect the will of the people? Put differently, when it comes to international affairs, are leaders supposed to lead, to embody their constituents' views, or both?

On this one, my gut feeling is that Canadian foreign policy should be Canadian, not partisan. Political parties that win government should be pre-occupied with advancing our country's long-term interests and leading by example, not simply reflecting momentary public opinion. But this produces a natural follow-up question: What makes foreign policy so special? Why should foreign policy be handled in a completely technocratic, realist fashion by our governments, but not social and economic policy?

Of course, there is a need for pragmatism in every facet of government. But there is a general expectation on social and economic files that the people should get what they vote for, at least when it comes to the big picture.

Is there a pressing social need to find some sort of a midway point between the government and its people on foreign policy, at least in tone if not in substance? If it is deemed necessary, is there a way to rally the opposing factions within Canada of a protracted social conflict (such as the Israeli-Palestinian one) behind a single Canadian foreign policy vision?

Ok, that's it. Have at it.

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