05/08/2012 12:25 EDT | Updated 07/08/2012 05:12 EDT

Canada, Stop Being Netanyahu's Doormat

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has reorganized his governing coalition and canceled a call for elections less than a day after his cabinet agreed to hold them early this September.

For Canada, this is welcomed news. Any shift in Israel's government would pose a challenge for this country's Israel policy, which often confuses support for Netanyahu with support for Israel.

An assertion that Israel has "no greater friend in the world than Canada" might not work if Israel was led by a left-wing labour government or the centrist Kadima party, unless Canada was prepared to offer a mea culpa and sail with the winds in a new direction, abandoning the principles behind its so-called principled stance vis-à-vis Israel.

There is no better example of the hole Canada is digging itself as a result of its unyielding commitment to Netanyahu, mistaken for a commitment to Israel, than the Netanyahu government's recent decision to expand settlements.

In April, Netanyahu's government legalized three settler "outposts" in the Occupied-Palestinian Territories. For over a decade, these and other similar outposts have been considered illegal by Israeli governments and did not count as established "settlements."

The Supreme Court has ordered certain outposts dismantled and criticized the government for not following through. Stuck between a rock and a hard place, or more accurately a Supreme Court and a yet-to-be state of Palestine, the Netanyahu government pre-emptively decided to turn these outposts into official settlements, also illegal under international law.

The legalization of the outposts was the first time Israel established new settlements since the 1993 Oslo Accords. It was a move by a Prime Minister who in September stood before the UN General Assembly and proclaimed, "I want peace" and that the settlements were "an issue that has to be addressed and resolved in the course of negotiations."

Negotiations -- for too many meaningless reasons where it is possible to apportion blame on both sides, have not been forthcoming. Should they resume, Netanyahu can now benefit from new "facts on the ground" making the matter more complicated. Israel's settlement enterprise has expanded; Palestine has gotten smaller.

Prime Minister Netanyahu is not ignorant. He would not have permitted the settlement approval now only to have them dismantled later; they are here to stay. The only issue to be "resolved in the course of negotiations" is for the Palestinians to now accept this.

Canada had no reaction to this troubling development. It never saw fit to express so much as concern, let alone disapproval, at this detrimental, unilateral, and above all, illegal move. Instead, our silence spoke louder than words.

Would Canada have reacted with similar silence if an Israeli government decided, as per Israeli and international law, that the outposts have to go -- that radicals who have taken up illegal residence have undermined Israel's commitments to democracy and the rule of law for too long.

Netanyahu will not be Prime Minister forever. Will our priorities and concerns then shift to whatever the new ruling party sees them to be? Alternatively, if the outpost legalization was one that Canada supported out of principle, because it genuinely believed it to be in this country's best interest vis-à-vis Israel and not just because it was carried out by Netanyahu's government, would Canada speak out against the dismantling of West Bank outposts? Would Canada express concern that one party was making unilateral moves that were unhelpful in bringing about a resolution to the conflict?

The answer to that ridiculous question is "No." And the reason is simple: more so than 100 speeches, dismantling illegal outposts is one of the surest, unilateral moves Israel can make to display a seriousness about its commitment to peace and a two-state solution. This is not about evacuating the entire West Bank or uprooting and demolishing established settlements with tens of thousands of inhabitants.

On the contrary.

Taking down illegal outposts signifies that Israel is standing up to small contingents of radical Israelis bent on destroying the prospects of peace, bringing Biblical prophesy to the 21st century at the expense of justice and equality, and undermining Israel as a democratic state built on the rule of law.

If Canada's policies on Israel/Palestine demonstrated the slightest bit of nuance and desire to use its credibility with the Israeli government to help end the conflict, our government would have indicated this to its "best friend" and suggested a more prudent course of action. But instead it said nothing, leaving two equally troubling conclusions.

Either the Canadian government doesn't understand the significance of the outposts, what their legalization means, and the effects on the peace process, or it doesn't care.