April 21st, 2024

What to know about MPs’ vote on Palestine statehood, changes to Middle East policy

By Dylan Robertson, The Canadian Press on March 19, 2024.

MPs voted late Monday for a symbolic motion surrounding Palestinian statehood, which included a number of slight shifts in the government's policy. Minister of Foreign Affairs Melanie Joly rises during question period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Monday, March 18, 2024. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

OTTAWA – Members of Parliament passed a symbolic motion on Palestinian statehood in the House of Commons late Monday with support from the Liberal government.

Here’s how the motion differs from Ottawa’s previous approach to the Middle East.

What happened Monday night?

Most of the Liberal caucus voted for an NDP motion that the two parties substantially changed at the last minute.

The original motion called for Canada to “officially recognize the state of Palestine” and adopt a series of measures against Hamas, but it largely focused on Israel.

It caused weeks of controversy and intense letter-writing campaigns and was altered – and significantly softened – at the 11th hour after extended Liberal-NDP negotiations.

The motion the House of Commons ultimately adopted included language about limiting military exports to Israel and holding to account extremist Israeli settlers.

The motion is non-binding, meaning it expresses the will of Parliament but doesn’t compel the government to take any action. But the Liberals have said they intend to follow through.

Is Canada going to recognize a Palestinian state?

Not anytime soon.

The amended version passed by the House urges Canada to “actively pursue” the establishment of a Palestinian state as part of a negotiated two-state solution, which aligns with Canada’s long-standing policy.

A two-state solution refers to Israel existing alongside a Palestinian country in peace, with borders that would be decided in negotiations that build on plans previously hashed out by Israeli and Palestinian officials.

It’s a policy that the Palestinian Authority, which governs the West Bank, has maintained support for. It lost control of the Gaza Strip in 2007 to Hamas, which Canada has long deemed a terrorist group.

The Israeli government has said the Hamas attack on Israel last fall has made it impossible to make progress on a two-state solution.

What would recognition actually change?

The change would be largely symbolic, because Palestine would still need to have its status as a full state validated by the United Nations.

Still, the U.K. and the U.S. have said they’re pondering recognizing Palestine as a state in order to preserve momentum toward a two-state solution, given the Israeli government’s pushback on the idea.

Most countries outside of Western Europe, the U.S. and Australia already formally recognize Palestine as a state.

Ottawa officially recognizes a Palestinian diplomatic mission with a fully accredited ambassador, similar to the status Canada grants the European Union delegation in Canada.

Is Canada stopping arms exports to Israel?

Perhaps.

On Monday in Parliament, Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly confirmed reports that Canada had not approved any military export permits for goods headed toward Israel since Jan. 8.

She said in French that this is because of “our inability to confirm that human rights are being upheld and, of course, that our export regime requirements would be met.”

The motion passed later that evening called on Canada to “cease the further authorization and transfer of arms exports to Israel, to to ensure compliance with Canada’s arms export regime” and also to boost efforts to stop Hamas accessing arms.

That softened language in the original version that called on Canada to “suspend all trade in military goods and technology with Israel,” which might have pre-empted Ottawa from reviewing applications for arms exports at all.

Federal reports show Canada’s arms exports to Israel in recent years have included explosive devices, aircraft and equipment as well as spacecraft components.

What else did we learn Monday?

Joly said Canada is going to move forward with issuing sanctions on violent Israeli settlers, who are part of a cohort of people living in the West Bank in communities that the Canadian government deems illegal under international law.

The United Nations says violence has surged within the territory ever since the war in the Gaza Strip started.

Canada had previously said it was considering following the U.S. in issuing such sanctions.

The motion passed Monday also calls for Canada to “support the work of the International Court of Justice,” but it’s not clear that changes anything for Ottawa.

The Liberals have steered clear of making a solid stance on a case South Africa brought to the tribunal alleging that Israel is committing genocide in its war against Hamas.

What are the political ramifications?

The Liberal caucus has been divided on the Israel-Hamas war since its start.

MPs representing ridings with large Muslim and Jewish populations have argued their government is not doing enough to protect people in the Middle East and at home.

Monday’s vote included abstentions by three Liberal MPs, including Anthony Housefather, who wouldn’t say Tuesday whether he is certain to stay within the party.

“I truly felt last night that a line had been crossed, when my party members got up and cheered and gave a standing ovation to “¦ the NDP. I started reflecting as to whether or not I belonged,” he told reporters.

The Conservatives also voted against the motion, saying it was hostile to Israel. They have accused the Liberals of abandoning Jewish voters.

How have Jewish and Muslim groups reacted?

Muslim and Pro-Palestinian groups hailed the language on military exports as Canada taking a major step against Israel.

Jewish groups aligned with that country echoed that point and expressed their disappointment with the motion.

Neither side seems fully satisfied that Canada has taken a clear stance.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 19, 2024.

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