Canadian Senate Panel’s Mideast Report is Sympathetic to the Palestinian Cause, Soft on the PLO

After three years of study, a Senate committee on Middle East policy has produced a report highly sympathetic to the Palestinian cause and soft on the Palestine Liberation Organization.

Fears that the report would call for Canada’s recognition of the PLO, fueled by leaks to the press a couple of weeks before it was presented proved unfounded. However, the two Jewish legislators on the Senate committee, Jerry Grafstein, a Liberal, and Nathan Nurgitz, a Progressive Conservative, have disassociated themselves from the report and the Canada-Israel Committee (CIC) has called it “misleading and ill-considered.”

Nurgitz told the Senate the day the report was presented that the report was “offensive” to the Jewish community of Canada in its treatment of the Arab-Israeli conflict. What is “especially shocking,” according to the CIC, is the report’s portrayal of the PLO as “some sort of frustrated, but essentially democratic organization.”

The report describes the PLO as a “relatively democratic” umbrella organization, moving toward moderation, that is regarded by the “vast majority of Palestinians … as their principal representative.”

While the Senate committee was “not persuaded on balance that Canada should proceed to recognize the PLO as the sole representative of the Palestinian people,” it recommends that the Canadian government continue its contacts with the PLO and, under some circumstances, show more flexibility.

HIGHLY CRITICAL OF ISRAEL’S POLICY

The report is very critical of Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, particularly its settlement program which is seen as a major obstacle to peace. It calls for withdrawal of Jewish settlements as “part of an overall political agreement in which Israel would undertake responsibility for the removal of the settlers from the settlements.” In the meantime, the report urges an end, not just a freeze, to settlement activity.

The report emphasizes that the “Palestinian problem is central” to the Arab-Israeli conflict. “There can be no resolution of the Arab-Israeli dispute until there has been agreement on how to accommodate the Palestinian people while at the same time ensuring the security and legitimacy of Israel.”

The report says the Canadian public’s perception of the PLO has been dominated by its military and terrorist activities, overlooking its contributions to the social welfare and “self-respect” of the Palestinians.

The study is the first examination of Canada’s relations with the Middle East by a parliamentary committee. The House of Commons gave the Senate the mandate to begin the study only days after Israel entered Lebanon in June, 1982.

The committee heard from 63 witnesses at hearings in Ottawa. Among the most controversial personalities to testify before the committee was Zehdi Terzi, PLO observer at the United Nations. During a Middle East tour in 1983, committee members met then Israeli Premier Yitzhak Shamir, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, King Fahd of Saudi Arabia and King Hussein of Jordan. Others testifying included Edgar Bronfman, president of World Jewish Congress, and Bethlehem Mayor Elias Freij. Further recommendations made in the report are that Canada send foreign aid to Palestinians on the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, a flexible attitude toward Palestinians wishing to emigrate to Canada, opposition to Israel’s “unilateral annexation” of East Jerusalem, and no anti-boycott legislation.

The report outlines a peace plan comprising first-stage negotiations between Israel and Egypt, Jordan and “moderate non-PLO Palestinians.” An international conference involving the United States, Soviet Union and three other permanent members of the UN Security Council is proposed for the second stage of talks.

The Senate is the upper house of the Canadian parliament through which all legislation must pass before it becomes law. Its responsibilities, however, are largely regarded as ceremonial.

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