Canadians urged to exercise caution in Middle East ahead of protests

Protests are in reaction to Trump’s announcement that the U.S. will recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel

Canadians in the Middle East were being urged to exercise caution ahead of planned protests against the Trump administration’s announcement it will recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

But the advisories from the Global Affairs department were the only federal government acknowledgment Wednesday that the U.S. move could pose a threat to stability in the region.

Senior Liberal parliamentarians wouldn’t comment on the implications of U.S. President Donald Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital and eventually move that country’s embassy there.

Instead, they insisted Canada’s position had not and would not change. Canada’s diplomatic outpost in the country will remain in Tel Aviv, Global Affairs said, and the question of Jerusalem’s status can only be answered as part of the peace process.

“Canada is a steadfast ally and friend of Israel and friend to the Palestinian people,” said Adam Austen, a spokesman for Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland. “Canada’s long standing position is that the status of Jerusalem can be resolved only as part of a general settlement of the Palestinian-Israeli dispute.”

Freeland had been briefed on the impending decision in a call Monday with U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, sources told The Canadian Press.

Freeland’s parliamentary secretary suggested a “wait and see” approach to the outcome of Trump’s pronouncement.

“The decision is a unilateral one by the president of the United States,” Andrew Leslie said.

Trump administration officials cast the president’s impending announcement as a simple acknowledgment of the “historical and current reality” of Jerusalem, which Israel effectively controls but whose status has been contested for centuries.

But any presidential pronouncement, even couched as Trump’s personal opinion, breaks from Washington’s painstakingly maintained position of neutrality, which has held that the city’s ultimate fate must be determined through Israeli-Palestinian negotiation.

Ahead of Trump’s White House speech, Arab and Muslim leaders spoke about the potential for violence. In Gaza, hundreds of Palestinian protesters burned American and Israeli flags. They also waved Palestinian flags and banners proclaiming Jerusalem as their “eternal capital,” language that Israelis similarly use.

New Democrat Leader Jagmeet Singh said it’s clear that Trump’s move is counterproductive and Canada should speak up.

“It is something that needs to be pointed out as being divisive,” Singh said.

During the 1979 Canadian federal election, Progressive Conservative Leader Joe Clark had pledged to move Canada’s embassy to Jerusalem, and had repeated the promise when he was elected prime minister.

He faced stiff opposition to the idea, including from then-opposition leader Pierre Trudeau who called the move damaging to Canada’s credibility in the region.

Clark appointed former party leader Robert Stanfield as a special envoy to the region, and he returned with a report recommending Canada’s diplomatic mission stay put.

Clark agreed.

Subsequent Conservative politicians in Canada have also supported the embassy’s move, most recently federal party leadership candidate Kellie Leitch. She made the promise as part of her leadership bid earlier this year.

Former Conservative foreign affairs minister John Baird attracted criticism in 2013 when he met a high-ranking Israeli politician in her office in East Jerusalem; that half of the city was captured by Israel in 1967.

— with files from the Associated Press

The Canadian Press

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