When Justin Trudeau finally uttered the word “annexation” at the start of June, it had been a long time coming.
After all, it was September of last year when Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu first unveiled his campaign promise to annex the Jordan Valley, which would amount to the theft of almost 30 per cent of the occupied West Bank.
Months later in January, U.S. President Donald Trump unveiled a one-sided “peace plan” that included a green light for Israel to annex not only the Jordan Valley but all West Bank settlements, as well as much of the connecting tissue between them.
Finally in May, after three consecutive Israeli elections, Netanyahu and his political rival Benny Gantz struck a deal to form a coalition government. Their agreement included a provision for the unilateral annexation of much of the West Bank as early as July 1, 2020.
At each of these critical moments, Canada’s prime minister, Justin Trudeau, had an opportunity to speak out against Israeli and American proposals. Instead, he declined.
Trudeau’s silence on this issue is baffling given the severity of the problem. It is not hyperbolic to point out that Israel’s planned annexation threatens to cut off any hope for Palestinian freedom and self-determination.
Under the most optimistic scenario of the Trump-Netanyahu annexation plan, a minority of Palestinians would be annexed by Israel and become “subjects” (as Netanyahu called them), not citizens, while the rest would be confined to nominally independent yet entirely subordinate Bantustans, surrounded and fragmented by the militarized borders of Israel.
At the very least, this would entirely nullify the basic principles upon which official Canadian foreign policy has ostensibly been based for decades — namely, that mutual negotiations should lead to a viable and sovereign Palestinian state.
Israeli annexation is not intended to produce an alternative democratic outcome, such as the formation of a binational state with equal rights for all peoples who live within its domain.
In essence, annexation would formalize and cement Israel’s existing regime of control over the West Bank, a situation which can only be likened to South Africa’s apartheid regime. Along these lines, 50 United Nations human rights experts have aptly warned that annexation would be the “crystallisation of an already unjust reality: two peoples living in the same space, ruled by the same state, but with profoundly unequal rights. This is a vision of a 21st century apartheid.”
Shamefully, it wasn’t until the past month that we finally had a chance to hear what the Canadian government actually thinks about these developments. On June 2, in response to a question from a reporter, Trudeau announced his “deep concerns and disagreement” about annexation.
Two weeks later, Canada’s ambassador to the United Nations further reiterated this view in a letter to UN member states (while attempting to deflect criticism about Canada’s pro-Israel voting record ahead of its failed bid for a seat on the UN Security Council).
Meanwhile, bureaucrats have indicated to the CBC that there’s “no chance” that Canada would recognize any annexation.
Unfortunately, we know that Trudeau’s approach — non-recognition of annexed territory, coupled with light criticism — is a failing one. We know this because it’s been done before, under familiar circumstances.
When Israel annexed East Jerusalem in 1980 and the Golan Heights in 1981, both territories that Israel had occupied since 1967, Canada refused (and still refuses) to recognize Israel’s sovereignty over them. Nonetheless, four decades later, these territories are still under intractable Israeli control.
In fact, far from holding Israel accountable for its actions, Canada has been an active participant in entrenching Israel’s presence within annexed and occupied territories. For decades, Canada has been strengthening its bilateral ties with Israel, including through last year’s modernization of the Canada-Israel Free Trade Agreement. This agreement violates UNSC Resolution 2334, which mandates that governments distinguish between Israel and its illegal settlements, as it makes no such distinction and extends trade benefits to settlement goods.
Similarly, Canada is currently intervening in court on behalf of settlement businesses by trying to appeal a recent ruling that had stopped settlement goods from being incorrectly labelled “Product of Israel.”
Such actions provide direct support to Israel’s settlement enterprise, and therefore its permanence within illegally occupied Palestinian territory, even as Trudeau’s official position on paper is to oppose them.
We already know what doesn’t work — and yet that is exactly the path that Canada is currently following.
If simple non-recognition is not going to stop Israel’s ongoing acquisition of Palestinian territory, it is time to finally explore other options. There are a variety of tools available to Canada that should be immediately considered: banning the import of settlement products, implementing an arms embargo, revisiting the Canada-Israel Free Trade Agreement, downgrading our diplomatic relations and cancelling security and intelligence cooperation. Already, the European Union and some of its member states have specifically threatened that sanctions are “on the table” if Israel proceeds with its annexation plans.
While imposing sanctions on Israel would be a dramatic change from the status quo, as the Canada-Israel relationship is often regarded as sacrosanct, the good news is that taking such measures would actually be quite popular. In a new EKOS survey released last week, 74 per cent of Canadians indicated they want Trudeau to express opposition to Israeli annexation in some form, and almost half of Canadians want to impose economic sanctions, diplomatic sanctions, or both against Israel. This shows that there is considerable public support for such actions.
It’s long past time for Canada to put sanctions on the table. This is necessary not just to avert contemporary threats of annexation but to end the brutality of the decades-long status quo.
Michael Bueckert is vice-president of Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East (CJPME). He has a PhD in Sociology and Political Economy from Carleton University.