A Canadian Proposal on Jerusalem

February 21, 2018

The following is a proposal recently submitted to the Government of Canada recommending an initiative Canada could take to resolve the decades-old dispute over the status of Jerusalem. In the proposal, former Canadian diplomat and member of the Canadian International Council, George Jacoby, argues that the plan proposed would have near universal support. In a communication to the White House, the author has suggested US support could net President Trump a “deal of the century”. Recognizing that problems of implementation loom large, he notes that the proposal is true to the UN’s original vision for an Israel-Palestine settlement and timely for renewed consideration in the UN Security Council. 

Mr. Jacoby notes the proposal is in the tradition of Canada’s longstanding pursuit of peace in the Middle East. A notable recent example was the Track Two diplomatic effort between 2003 and 2014 led former Canadian ambassadors Michael Bell and Mike Molly to explore sustainable governance solutions for the Old City of Jerusalem. 

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There has been renewed international controversy over the Israel/Palestine Jerusalem conflict caused by President Trump’s announcement that the US recognizes Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and will eventually move its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, albeit without prejudice to the final status and boundaries of Jerusalem.  The ensuing intense international reaction, including a proposal from Arab and Muslim countries to recognize Palestine with its capital in East Jerusalem, and US threats to withdraw aid from the Palestinian authority, threatens the peace process.

In Canada, Foreign Minister Freeland’s press releases have confirmed Canada’s traditional policy of not recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital until there is a comprehensive solution in place, while its abstention on the UN General Assembly resolution has resulted in debate and lobbying over future Canadian policy. In these difficult and complex circumstances, Canada should be creatively and determinedly championing an old but new and timely proposal to achieve an overall comprehensive solution to the Israel/Palestine Jerusalem conundrum as follows:

  • Recognition of the Jewish state of Israel with its capital in West Jerusalem;
  • Recognition of the Arab state of Palestine with East Jerusalem as its capital;
  • Internationalization of the holy sites of Judaism, Christianity and Islam in the old city of Jerusalem.

This solution can be achieved with goodwill negotiations between Israel and Palestine in a reasonably short time, under specific guidelines and with the full support and assistance of the international community acting through, in accord with, and under the authority of the UN Security Council and other UN and international bodies.

Both sovereign Israel and Palestine would assure their own security, governance, borders, refugee and immigration and minority rights, while cooperating and ensuring access to the internationalized holy places to ensure access by all including tens of millions of Jews and billions of Christians and Muslims and others wanting to benefit from the inspiration of Jerusalem.

This is a solution that should satisfy all parties in the conflict because it is in accord with their interests and stated policies. It should overcome any resistance by extreme Jewish nationalists in the Israeli government, Palestinian rejectionists, and any Christian, Muslim and other groups that may be opposed.

Canada, with its diversity, tolerance and even-handed foreign policies and its influence with Israel, Palestine, the United States, EU countries, the Arab and Islamic worlds, and all other international actors, is well placed to start the ball rolling in a positive direction perhaps with the like-minded EU countries. Canada could even persuade President Donald Trump and his son-in-law and senior advisor Jared Kushner to support this approach and therefore salvage the “deal of the century”, rather than withdrawing from or further complicating the peace process. Canada could draw directly on the expertise and work on the sharing and internationalization of the holy sites in the old city of Jerusalem of retired Canadian expert ambassadors in Israel and the Middle East, the late Michael Bell and Mike Molloy, whose work has been published in a three-volume set Governance and Security in Jerusalem: The Jerusalem Old City Initiative.

There would be tremendous benefits to ending the conflict and competing claims. Israel would no longer have to worry about policing the “occupied territories” and the endless international criticism of its human rights violations, the constant violence and terror, the UN fault-finding, and the permanent insecurity for all that the status quo entails. Israel could be confident of being both a Jewish majority and democratic country. As a free independent country, Palestine could develop its governance and economy independently and responsibility with effective international assistance. Both sovereign countries could cooperate in the sharing of common resources and in joint economic development. Jerusalem and its internationalized holy sites would be open to all and an example to the world of tolerance and cooperation.

There is every possibility that such a successful initiative by Canada would ensure Canada’s election to the UN Security Council in 2021 and perhaps a future Nobel peace prize for Middle East peacemaking, as Canada’s Lester B. Pearson achieved in helping to resolve the 1956 Suez crisis. It would certainly confirm that Canada “is back” to fulfil its admirable and historic peacemaking and peacekeeping legacy, offering its diplomatic expertise and peacekeeping resources to the great purpose of finding and implementing a solution to the Israel/Palestine Jerusalem conflict and galvanizing international support to this end.

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Feature image: Jerusalem April 15th 1839, David Roberts (wikiart.org)

George Jacoby studied international relations, economics and public administration at Dartmouth College (BA) and Carleton University (MPA). He spent 36 years in the Canadian Department of Foreign Affairs in a variety of political, geographic, security and economic positions. His focus on Middle Eastern and African Affairs came about through service in the respective geographic divisions and postings in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Iran, Libya, Ethiopia (African Union) and Algeria. Until recently, Mr. Jacoby was Chair of the Middle East Study Group at the National Capital Branch of the Canadian International Council.

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