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Saturday, October 25, 2014

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Q&A with John Baird: 'Israel must protect its citizens'

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John Baird

Earlier this month, Canada’s minister of foreign affairs, John Baird, expressed his categorical support for Israel in an interview with The CJN at his regional office in Toronto.  

He spoke out harshly against the recent murders of three Israeli teenagers and a Palestinian teen, as well as Hamas’ rocket offensive targeting Israeli civilians and what he sees as the drawing of equivalencies between the actions of Israel and Hamas.

What is Canada’s position on the kidnapping and murder of the three Israeli teenagers?

Obviously, it’s an incredibly provocative act… it’s reprehensible. Someone said to me that this must be just awful for the three parents. I said, no, it’s awful for every Israeli parent and every Jewish parent. 

I think it’s reprehensible, as well, the tragic murder of the Palestinian boy.

Does Canada have its own information confirming the role of Hamas in the kidnapping of the three Israeli teenagers?

No, we don’t have intelligence officers on the ground. But our close friend and ally says there’s clear proof [that the kidnapping was orchestrated by Hamas], and we have no reason to challenge that. 

Hamas, Islamic Jihad, their offshoots, their splinter groups, their sympathizers… they’re pretty odious and nefarious people.

Does Canada believe that Israel’s offensive in the Gaza Strip is proportionate to Hamas’ rocket attacks on Israel?

I saw the [Canadian] Liberals put out a statement saying both sides should de-escalate. Well, on one side, there’s an international terrorist group, Hamas, targeting civilians, and on the other side, there’s the government trying to stop them. 

So, I just don’t agree… you can’t even compare the two. You have a terrorist group targeting civilians!

If this was happening here – if you had people on one side of Yonge Street launching rockets on the other side, the people of Toronto would want one single thing from their government: to make it stop. 

It’s not just that Israel has a right of self-defence. It has a responsibility to protect its people. That’s one of the most fundamental responsibilities of government. [The other day], there were 360 rockets in one day aimed at Israeli civilians – I don’t know what you could do that wouldn’t be commensurate. 

What’s the Canadian position on the Fatah-Hamas unity government?

I think the fact the government of Israel continues to transfer funds every month… I’ve got to give [Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud] Abbas some credit. I don’t like him, obviously, cozying up to [Hamas], but, in fairness, in the cabinet there are Fatah members and technocrats… there’s no one affiliated with Hamas, and that’s a good thing… at the end of the day, Hamas still calls for the destruction of the State of Israel and not just advocates, but engages, in violence. 

And do you think a dismantling of the unity government is necessary to establishing peace between Israel and Palestine?

I think what’s important to be dismantled is Hamas’ military power in Gaza. That’s what we want to see dismantled, so that the Palestinian Authority is the only one with firepower. 

And Canada’s provided a lot of assistance to the PA, working with the U.S. on security, justice [and] capacity-building within the PA so that they can tackle these problems themselves. Obviously, that’s been exclusively in the West Bank and not in Gaza, because of the problems in the last eight years [of Hamas rule].

But does your government believe Fatah needs to cut ties altogether with Hamas as a prerequisite for peace?

I don’t think Hamas can play any role in peace discussions when they call for the destruction of the State of Israel. That’s a prerequisite, I think. 

Canada has clearly pledged its support for Israel. How does it intend to continue showing its support, going forward?

The Canadian prime minister spoke to “Bibi” [Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu], I’ve spoken to [Israeli Foreign Minister] Avigdor Liberman… we’ve publicly taken a strong stand – not just on Israel’s right to defend itself, by itself, but on recognizing its obligation to do so. 

As I said, I saw the [Canadian] Liberal party the other day calling on both sides to de-escalate. That’s ridiculous. How can you compare the actions of the State of Israel with an international terrorist group firing 360 rockets at civilians? 

It’s not just that it’s evil in intent, it’s also incredibly reckless. These rockets are so inaccurate. What if one of these rockets hit the Temple Mount? Can you imagine the inflamed mobs on streets around the world? What if it hit a hospital? Or a school? This is truly evil. We support Israel’s actions to make this stop.

What kind of aid will Canada offer to Israel?

We haven’t received any requests [for aid]. I know the cabinet has come forward with requests for the [Jewish] Diaspora… I spoke at a United Jewish Appeal (UJA) event the other day where they made an appeal. 

Certainly, if they made any requests, we’d consider it. 

What is your government’s view on the U.S. government’s approach to the current Israeli-Palestinian conflict?

Certainly, we appreciated [former U.S. secretary of state] Hillary [Clinton]’s work in 2012 on the ceasefire agreement. But we take our own positions. 

We have a made-in-Canada policy on the Middle East.

Is Canada disappointed by the U.S. response?

I’ll let others comment on their approach.

At this juncture, does your government support a two-state solution?

Absolutely.

Do you believe it’s possible?

I do. I strongly believe in a two-state solution. I have never met a single Israeli political leader who has wanted to rule over the Palestinian people.

But I do believe that statehood is the fruit of a peace deal that guarantees a secure Jewish state and a prosperous Palestinian state, demilitarized. n

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