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Ottawa changes policy on recognizing Palestinian statehood

The federal government is changing its policy on recognizing a Palestinian state in response to what it says are unacceptable positions and actions taken by both the Israeli government and the Hamas militant group that controls the Gaza Strip.

On Friday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government said it would consider recognizing a Palestinian state before finalizing the terms of a two-state solution. Until now, Canada has taken the position that recognizing a Palestinian state is only the final step in such a process.

Ottawa announced the change to its long-standing position on the same day that the United Nations General Assembly voted overwhelmingly in favor of a Palestinian bid to become a full member of the United Nations. Canada has voted against such resolutions in the past, along with the United States and Israel, but this time it abstained.

The process of achieving a two-state solution “cannot indefinitely delay the creation of a Palestinian state,” the federal Foreign Affairs Department said in a statement Friday.

“Canada is ready to recognize the State of Palestine at a time most conducive to lasting peace, not necessarily as the final step on that path,” the statement said.

At a news conference in West Kelowna, British Columbia, Mr. Trudeau told reporters that his government believes the world is moving away from a negotiated two-state solution in which Israel can exist peacefully and securely alongside a Palestinian state.

“The Israeli government under Prime Minister Netanyahu has unacceptably closed the door on any path to a two-state solution, and we fundamentally disagree with that,” Trudeau said.

At the same time, Hamas, which the federal government has designated a terrorist organization, “continues to put civilian lives in danger and continues to refuse to recognize the State of Israel in a way that is also unacceptable,” he said.

The prime minister said the government is now open to recognizing the state of Palestine before negotiations are concluded “in order to push for a two-state solution.”

The war between Israel and Hamas has deeply divided his minority Liberal caucus, and his government has come under enormous internal and external pressure from those who demanded greater support for Israel while others argued for the opposite.

The war began on October 7, when Hamas invaded Israel, killed over 1,200 people, and tortured and raped some victims. The militant group took about 240 people hostage and is believed to still be holding about 100 people.

Israel has since launched one of the most intense bombing campaigns in recent history. According to the Hamas-controlled Gaza health agency, more than 34,000 Palestinians were killed in the attack. Seven months later, aid groups warn that Palestinians in Gaza are starving, have no access to adequate health care and many of their homes have been destroyed by Israeli bombing.

On Friday, Trudeau again called on his government to call on Hamas to lay down its weapons and release the remaining hostages, and for Israel to ensure more humanitarian aid flows into Gaza “to prevent rapidly developing famine conditions and the terrible loss of life.”

The government’s new position is announced almost two months after the NDP was persuaded to change a motion before the House of Commons that originally called for immediate recognition of a Palestinian state.

In response to the new policy outlined by the federal government, Israel’s ambassador to Canada, Iddo Moed, said in a statement that recognizing a Palestinian state now would reward Hamas for its October 7 atrocities and reward Iran for the April 14 rocket attack on Israel.

“Palestinian statehood could only be achieved through negotiations between the two sides,” Mr. Moed said. “We expect that the international community will not impose a reality that does not coincide with the situation on the ground.”

Professor of international affairs Roland Paris, who is also director of the Graduate School of Public and International Affairs at the University of Ottawa, said it is difficult to understand the political logic of Canada’s new position, which he said is unclear also because the government has not specified in which circumstances will declare Palestinian statehood.

Prof. Paris agreed with Israel’s position that recognizing statehood now would reward Hamas for starting the current fighting. “Would doing so make peace more likely? I doubt it,” he said.

In a statement, Conservative spokesman Sebastian Skamski said the official opposition believes the current war was started by Hamas and “can end as soon as Hamas releases the hostages, lays down its weapons and surrenders unconditionally.”

“The process and work towards a two-state peaceful solution will be able to resume after the end of the war,” Skamski said.

The NDP stated that if it were in government, Canada would vote for the resolution at the UN. MP and foreign affairs critic Heather McPherson described the federal government’s abstention as a betrayal.

“Palestine is a country and should be recognized by Canada,” Ms. McPherson said. “The longer we delay the realization of statehood, the more harm and despair it causes for millions of Palestinians. This move would help ensure peace and security for both Palestinians and Israelis.”