Masthead graphic based on a painting by Gudrun Thriemer.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Janice Arnold, "Clark raps Harper government on Mideast," Canadian Jewish News, February 8, 2007.

MONTREAL - Former prime minister Joe Clark pointedly criticized Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s stance on the Israeli-Arab conflict, saying the current Conservative government has put Canada’s “balanced and careful” Middle East foreign policy in jeopardy.

In a Jan. 31 address at McGill University, Clark said Harper made a “mistake” in making withdrawal of support from the Hamas-led Palestinian government his first major foreign policy action after taking office just over a year ago.

Clark also termed “ill-judged” Harper’s strongly pro-Israel position during Israel’s war against Hezbollah in Lebanon last summer.

Clark said he finds “troubling” the Conservative government’s “closeness to the foreign policies of the United States administration” to the exclusion of
Canada’s interests in the rest of the world.

Clark was Progressive Conservative prime minister for nine months in 1979-80, and minister of external affairs under prime minister Brian Mulroney from 1984 to 1991.

Since October, he has been a professor of practice for public-private sector partnerships at McGill’s Centre for Developing Area Studies.

He said Harper is moving away from the “constructive role” Canada has developed over the past 25 years in the Middle East under successive Liberal and Progressive Conservative governments, without making clear where he is going.

Canada, he said, worked hard over the years to be a “reliable interlocutor” between Israelis and Arabs. “Not many other countries have that reputation,” he said.

The Harper government, he suggested, appears not to understand the “complexity on the ground… One of the lessons I learned was the Palestinian issue is very much symbolic for the developing world.”

Clark disputed Harper’s opinion, stated in a year-end interview, that Canada has been been “completely absent” from the Middle East in the past decade.

“Apart from being flatly false, that rebuke is even more unsettling as either a warning shot, or an unguarded statement of belief, by the prime minister who so dominates this government.”

He said Harper should acknowledge that he erred, as Clark himself had to do on “one celebrated occasion.” He was referring to the diplomatic crisis he set off just two days after being sworn in as prime minister when he announced Canada would move its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, fulfilling a campaign promise.

He quickly dropped the plan in the wake of outrage from the Arab and Islamic world.

Clark interprets sending Foreign Minister Peter MacKay to the Middle East last month as an attempt to “repair the damage of the hard lines” Harper took upon coming into office.

Clark’s address was a broad critique of the Harper government’s foreign policy in general. He said he hoped his remarks would spark public debate on where Harper is taking Canada in the international arena. He said others have similar concerns but are not in a position to raise them openly.

“There has not been much public debate about what motivates the changes, or what their consequences might be. Moreover, there is no evidence that they are the result of advice from the foreign ministry or other customary sources, including the platform or resolutions of Mr. Harper’s party.”

He said Harper is taking too much direction from the Bush administration and letting Canada’s relations with rest of the world deteriorate. This may be shortsighted, he said, because the United States’s reputation and authority is declining in the world,
while the relative power of other countries, notably China and India, is growing.

Clark said he has no trouble with a Canadian government being close to the White House, but said that “what is troubling is focusing on one relationship so exclusively.”

This is undermining Canada’s relations elsewhere, especially with developing countries, and a waste of the multilateral skills this country has been known

Canada is most effective internationally when it is, “simultaneously, as close as possible to the U.S. and as active and independent as possible in the wider world,” Clark said.

“Those are not opposite positions. They are the two sides of the Canadian coin, and both must be given attention or we debase our currency.”

As close as Mulroney was to Washington, Clark noted, the Palestinians’ right to self-determination was one of the key issues on which Canada and the United States disagreed while Clark was external affairs minister.

Since World War II, Canada has built trust and earned respect in parts of the world where the United States “might only generate envy or fear.” The consequence is
that developing nations may look elsewhere to less exemplary countries than Canada for influence.

Harper’s tendency not to take advice, as elected leaders traditionally have, from civil servants and diplomats has led to “the erosion of the status of Canada’s professional foreign service,” Clark said, which is “widely recognized as one of the best in the world.”

A lack of resources and appreciation will discourage talented people from pursuing a career in the public service, he said.

Clark noted that he had more resources at his disposal than any foreign minister who has come after him, and “substantial freedom to set policy, including in some

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