MONTREAL, March 26 (JTA) Canadian officials have confirmed that their government financed a brochure calling for Palestinians to realize the “Right of Return” by taking back homes and property lost inside Israel during Israel’s 1948 War of Independence.
An official with Canada’s Foreign Affairs department, however, denied charges that the Canadian government took a leading role in producing “Witness to History: The Plight and Promise of Palestinian Refugees.”
The brochures were printed by a nongovernmental organization run by prominent Palestinian legislator Hanan Ashrawi, which receives funding from the Canada Fund for Local Institutions, the official said.
The 56-page, illustrated brochure calls for Palestinians to repossess the homes they lost in 1948. The Palestinian insistence that refugees and their descendants some 3 million to 4 million people in all have the right to return to homes lost in the fighting that surrounded the birth of the State of Israel helped sink peace talks under the last Israeli government.
Israel sees acceptance of the Right of Return as demographic suicide, and the Palestinian insistence on the Right of Return as a veiled call to eliminate the Jewish state.
An article that ran over the weekend by the Israeli journalist David Bedein in Canada’s conservative National Post newspaper, claimed that the brochure was “published and distributed by the Canadian government.”
According to Bedein, the inside page of the brochure states that the Canadian government was responsible for publishing and distributing the document through its Canadian Representative Office in Ramallah. The brochure features an introduction by Ashrawi calling for the Palestinian return to 531 villages lost during Israel’s War of Independence, many of which no longer exist.
Carl Schwenger, a spokesman for the Foreign Affairs Ministry in Ottawa, stressed that “our take is different” than Bedein’s.
Schwenger noted that Canada has been a consistent backer of U.N. Security Council Resolution 194 which recognizes the Palestinians’ “inalienable right of return” yet supports attempts to solve the Palestinian refugee problem by settling them elsewhere in the world.
Canada remains the gavel-holder for the working group established under the Oslo process in 1993 to negotiate the future of Palestinian refugees, Bedein notes.
“To imply that this office” in Ramallah “handed the brochure out is incorrect,” Schwenger said. “And they also did not advocate the positions in the brochure. In fact,” Foreign Affairs Minister John Manley “was burned in effigy by pro-Palestinian protesters for suggesting that some refugees might wish to come to Canada.”
The brochure was published by Ashrawi’s Palestinian Institute for the Promotion of Global Dialogue and Democracy, Schwenger said, which received “between $1,000 and $10,000” toward publishing costs from the Canadian fund.
Ashrawi’s stated proposal was to promote UNRWA a U.N. agency established after the 1948 war to care for Palestinian refugees as a candidate for the Nobel Peace Prize, Schwenger said.
Canadian legislator Irwin Cotler, a noted human rights advocate, said he had recently returned from a visit to the Canadian Representative Office in Ramallah, which acts as a de facto Canadian Embassy to the Palestinian Authority.
Cotler met there with the office’s chief representative, Tim Martin, and an assistant, John Laine. In his article, Bedein accuses the pair of “helping fan the flames of a refugee war to conquer all of Palestine” through their backing of the Palestinian cause.
During his March 9 meeting with Martin and Laine, Cotler said, he saw a book on Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations.
“There was but one copy and I asked them if I could borrow it,” Cotler recalled. “They gave it to me, but were concerned that they might be seen as distributing it.”
In addition, Cotler said, “they referred as well to another booklet the one in question, I assume which they also stressed they did not publish or distribute.”