OTTAWA (JTA) — Israel’s expansion of Jewish settlements on the West Bank is "illegal," Canada’s foreign minister said.
The comments by Lawrence Cannon followed a meeting Monday in Ottawa with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.
They were somewhat surprising given that Canada’s Conservatives are seen as the most pro-Israel government in the country’s history.
"Canada has never supported the expansion of settlements," Cannon told the CanWest news service. "We believe that it’s an illegal move, and it’s certainly not helpful to the peace process."
Moshe Ronen, national chair of the Canada-Israel Committee, said he was "surprised" by Cannon’s remarks.
Abbas, who visited the Canadian capital for the second time, said he briefed Cannon on the need to freeze "all settlement activity, including natural growth." He said he was satisfied with Canada’s position on the issue.
"As far as our knowledge of Canada’s position, [it] is consistent with international law and human rights," Abbas told reporters. "We’re very appreciative that Canada stands with us."
Abbas met Tuesday with Prime Minister Stephen Harper, whose office said the two discussed ways of putting the peace process on track.
"Canada believes that these issues must be settled between the parties themselves," the statement said. "Canada also remains prepared to assist in the peace process in any way the parties would find useful, and will continue the support it has provided on the security and refugee issues."
Also Tuesday, Ronen led a delegation of Jewish community leaders in a meeting with Abbas and chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat.
"It was an opportunity to get Abbas’ perspective on the challenges facing Palestinians and Israelis as they try to advance the peace process," Ronen said.