Harper says he won’t single out Israel for criticism

JERUSALEM (JTA) — Israel is aware of Canada’s concern about West Bank settlements but does not need to be singled out for criticism, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper said.

Harper and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu held a news conference on Tuesday, Harper’s third day in Israel.

Israeli and Palestinian leaders are aware of Canada’s position on the settlements, which is “publicly available,” Harper asserted.

“I’m not here to single out Israel for criticism,” Harper said in response to a reporter’s question. “You know, we’ve got more than enough people standing up in the world ready to do that. You don’t need me.

“I’m here to talk about our shared values and interests. There are specific questions on which we disagree. ”

Harper called on Israel and the Palestinians to negotiate “mutually agreeable” resolutions toward a peace treaty.

The Canadian leader added what he called “an observation,” noting in the Palestinian Authority on Monday, “no one asked me there to single out the Palestinian Authority for any criticism in terms of governance or human rights or anything else. I’m asked to single out Israel.

“When I’m in Israel, I’m asked to single out Israel; when I’m in the Palestinian Authority, I’m asked to single out Israel; and in half the other places around the world, you ask me to single out Israel.”

Just days before Harper’s visit to Israel, the Canadian Foreign Ministry issued an updated policy paper on Israel and the Palestinians stating that Canada believes Israeli settlements are illegal and an obstacle to peace, Haaretz reported.

Netanyahu addressed the issue of settlements, saying “we’ll deal with it in the course of a final settlement of peace, but no, it is not the core of the conflict. The core of the conflict is the persistent refusal to accept a Jewish nation-state.”

Harper said he and Netanyahu talked about ways to increase bilateral trade and announced the launch of negotiations to modernize the Canada-Israel Free Trade Agreement.

Earlier in the day, the prime ministers were present at the signing of a letter of intent for a partnership between Dalhousie University in Canada and Ben-Gurion University in Israel. Harper also visited the Western Wall, but canceled a visit to the Temple Mount after being told his Jewish guards could not accompany him, according to B’nai Brith Canada.

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