Foreign Minister Marc Garneau will visit Israel and the West Bank this week in an effort to advance “the goal of a comprehensive, just and lasting peace in the region and a two-state solution.”
Jetting to the Middle East to champion a languishing peace process just days after Israel formed a government that has made clear it will maintain the status quo when it comes to a half-century-long occupation might seem like an exercise in futility. That’s because it is. Maintaining the fiction that the peace process is still active conveniently allows the Trudeau government to avoid dealing with the reality on the ground.
For decades, Israel’s supporters, including Canada, have treated as temporary Israel’s entrenched discrimination against Palestinians. This includes draconian military rule over Palestinians in the occupied West Bank, while Jewish Israelis living in the same territory enjoy the protections of Israeli civil law. These governments have treated grave abuses in the Occupied Palestinian Territory (OPT), including the ever-expanding settlements, sweeping restrictions on the movement of Palestinians, mass land confiscation, discriminatory home demolitions and mass suspension of civil rights, as mere symptoms of the lack of a peace process.
It’s time to face reality. Decades later, the occupation is not temporary, and there is no real peace process today. The Israeli government rules primarily over the area between the Jordan River and Mediterranean Sea, and methodologically privileges Jewish Israelis while repressing the other group of roughly equal size that lives in this area, Palestinians, at varying degrees of intensity. Laws, policies, and statements by Israeli authorities, particularly in recent years, make plain that the objective of maintaining Jewish Israeli control over demographics, political power, and land guides government policy today. In pursuit of this goal, authorities have dispossessed, confined, forcibly separated, and subjugated Palestinians by virtue of their identity.
For years, analysts have warned that apartheid lurked around the corner if the trajectory of Israel’s rule of the Palestinians did not change. In April, our organization, Human Rights Watch, released a report showing that Israeli authorities have turned that corner. Based on years of in-depth research and legal analysis, we determined that Israeli authorities are committing the crimes against humanity of apartheid and persecution. Our finding is based on the overarching Israeli government policy to maintain the domination by Jewish Israelis over Palestinians and the grave abuses committed against Palestinians living in the OPT, including East Jerusalem.
Human Rights Watch is not the only organization to make this determination. Over the last year, 25 Palestinian rights groups penned an appeal to the UN on Israeli apartheid signed by more than 200 international and regional NGOs. Israeli human rights groups Yesh Din and B’Tselem have also released major publications on apartheid, while legal scholars, parliamentarians across the globe, respected commentators and two former Israeli ambassadors to South Africa have called out apartheid. In recent weeks, South Africa and Namibia co-hosted an event at the UN where their foreign ministers likened Israeli practices to apartheid, and Luxemburg and France’s foreign ministers referenced apartheid in comments on recent developments.
But the Trudeau government has refused to recognize this reality. Just this month Garneau stated: “The position of the liberal government is extremely clear on the question of the apartheid label. We reject it categorically.” The minister did not explain how, in Canada’s view, the “label” did not fit the serious international crimes Human Rights Watch and others have documented. As recognition of the commission of the crime grows, Canada is one of the few states that has publicly rejected this finding.
Canada says it supports efforts to advance a better future for Israelis and Palestinians, but its failing to do that. Canada has opposed the International Criminal Court (ICC) exercising jurisdiction over serious crimes committed in the OPT. The ICC Prosecutor recently opened a formal probe into these abuses and Canada should be supporting these moves towards justice and accountability.
In its quest to revive a peace process, Canada has lost sight of a dire problem that requires urgent and immediate redress. The lack of a peace process today cannot justify continuing to deprive Palestinians of their fundamental rights.
Minister Garneau should start this trip by dispensing with Canada’s tired talking points, acknowledge the reality on the ground for what it is, and press Israeli authorities to take steps to end apartheid and persecution.