As the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza hits its 40th anniversary this month, there's growing momentum to end the boycott of the Palestinian Authority but the Canadian feds aren't yet moving an inch.
Last month, the European Parliament voted to urge the EU to lift sanctions and resume normal relations, as Norway has already done. Closer to home, the federal NDP, reversing its earlier stand, is calling for full diplomatic and financial ties with the Palestinian government, which was reconstituted in February to include Fatah and smaller independent groupings.
On the ground, the Palestinian economy is buckling under the combined pressure of sanctions, Israeli confiscation of Palestinian tax funds and restrictions on Palestinian movement. The UN World Food Program warns that Palestinian "chronic malnourishment is on a steadily rising trend" against the backdrop of P.A. fiscal crisis and the meltdown of basic services.
But despite Hamas's unilateral ceasefires, the broadening of the PNA and civilian suffering, the Harper government is holding firm to the inverted logic of sanctioning an occupied people while making an ever-closer ally of the occupying power.
Indeed, the Tories are acting as if Palestinian social collapse is less a deterrent than a goal. Foreign Affairs spokesperson Rodney Moore tells NOW that "Canada will only consider assistance to the P.A. when the Palestinian government clearly commits to the principles of non-violence, recognition of Israel and acceptance of previous agreements and obligations, including the Roadmap."
Moore adds that the Harper government, fresh from a two-day series of meetings with the Israeli foreign ministry, is preparing for "upcoming 10th-year celebrations of the Canada-Israel Free Trade Agreement (CIFTA)."
(A spokesperson for the Canada-Israel Committee could not be reached for comment.)
Proinsias De Rossa, vice-chair of the European Parliament's delegation to the P.A. and an Irish Labour rep from Dublin, tells NOW that maintaining sanctions on Palestinians and preferential trade with Israel "is an example of the kind of doublethink that underlies the approach to this problem."
"With the West Bank occupied and Gaza quite simply an open-air prison controlled by the Israelis," placing special onus on the Palestinians is unreasonable, De Rossa says. To have any credibility, obligations "have to apply to both sides and to all players."
The idea of diverting aid around the P.A., he says, is "not only political nonsense, it's dangerous nonsense."
The UN's World Food Program is sharply concerned about the consequences and warns that 34 per cent of Palestinians are experiencing food insecurity in a population of which 40 per cent are children under 15. People are surviving, the organization says, mainly through networks of mutual aid that are showing real strain.
WFP spokesperson Kirstie Campbell, speaking from Jerusalem, explains that because the P.A. is unable to pay wages, "there are less and less people with a regular income able to share what little money they have."
The fiscal crisis, she adds, has poor families paying for services the government used to provide; many with insufficient food are "forced to sell a little bit of the food we're giving them just in order to be able to send their child to a doctor."
One can argue that Canada bears a serious responsibility for this devastating embargo, which it was first to join Israel in implementing after the election of Hamas.
Stephen Zunes, University of San Francisco professor and Middle East editor for Foreign Policy In Focus, says the Canadian government's approach has helped generate support for an effort "to punish the Palestinian people as a whole" and "has hurt the more moderate voices in Europe trying to promote some kind of compromise."
Brokering some sort of new alignment seems what the NDP is about these days. The party disappointed many in early 2006 when it supported sanctions against the Hamas government and the diversion of aid around the P.A. But maintaining sanctions after the creation of the unity government has been too much for the NDP.
NDP foreign affairs critic Alexa McDonough tells NOW the current policy "is absolutely humiliating and counter-productive," and she is calling for full relations with the entire unity government.
McDonough expresses frustration that even Palestinian information minister Mustafa Barghouti, whom she describes as "a capable parliamentarian with a very clear view of what governance means" was snubbed by the Harper government when he visited Canada in March. "It's sheer madness," McDonough says.
The GTA's Palestine House is seeking support for a demo Sunday (June 10), to broaden cracks in Canada's pro-sanctions consensus.
In the meantime, Canada continues to buttress a strategy that is aiming to push sanctions through to Palestinian social collapse. For the Tories, this may translate as "moral clarity," but it can hardly be a point of pride for the rest of us.