Canada was one of 35 countries that abstained from a vote Thursday during which more than 100 members of the United Nations overwhelmingly condemned the decision by U.S. President Donald Trump to move the American embassy in Israel to Jerusalem.
“Canada is strongly committed to the goal of a comprehensive, just and lasting peace in the Middle East, including the creation of a Palestinian state living side-by-side in peace and security with Israel. Canada’s longstanding position is that the status of Jerusalem can be resolved only as part of a general settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian dispute. This has been the policy of consecutive governments, both Liberal and Conservative,” said Adam Austen, spokesperson for Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland.
“Canada continues to support building the conditions necessary for the parties to find a peaceful solution. We are disappointed that this resolution is one sided and does not advance prospects for peace to which we aspire, which is why we will abstain on today’s vote.”
At an emergency session of the United Nations General Assembly in New York, members of the international organization cast votes on a motion that represents a major global condemnation of Trump’s decision to move the embassy from Tel Aviv to the contested city of Jerusalem, which both Israel and the Palestinian people claim as their capital.
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The countries that voted with the United States against the resolution condemning its embassy move were Togo, Palau, the Marshall Islands, Micronesia, Nauru, Honduras, Guatemala and Israel.
The full list of abstaining countries was: Antigua-Barbuda, Argentina, Australia, the Bahamas, Benin, Bhutan, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Cameroon, Canada, Colombia, Croatia, Czech Republic, Dominican Republic, Equatorial Guinea, Fiji, Haiti, Hungary, Jamaica, Kiribati, Latvia, Lesotho, Malawi, Mexico, Panama, Paraguay, the Philippines, Poland, Romania, Rwanda, the Solomon Islands, South Sudan, Trinidad and Tobago, Tuvalu, Uganda and Vanuatu.
The United Kingdom, France, Germany, Ireland, Belgium, Portugal, Spain and China all voted to condemn the move of the American embassy as part of a total of 128 countries voting in favour of the resolution.
The decision by Canada to abstain was not unexpected but represents a delicate balance the Canadian government is trying to walk as it navigates between not irritating the Americans while NAFTA negotiations are ongoing and also not alienating the roughly 50 Arab states with the power to cast votes in a powerful bloc against Canada’s bid for a seat on the United Nations Security Council.
Former prime minister Stephen Harper made a point of solidifying Canadian support for Israel at the United Nations, voting in concert with the U.S. and Israel at several major votes over the years, and the government of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has not significantly strayed from that path, often sticking with the decision to cast matching votes.
The vote on Thursday, however, is likely to draw more attention for Canada as one of the handful of abstaining countries.
Nikki Haley, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, doubled down in her opening statement to the General Assembly ahead of the vote and repeated vows to yank American foreign aid from countries that vote to condemn the move.
“The decision does nothing to harm the peace process,” said Haley. “America will put our embassy in Jerusalem. that is what the American people want us to do and it is the right thing to do. No vote in the U.N. will make any difference on that.”
Several abstaining countries who spoke after the vote stressed in remarks made to the General Assembly that while they remained committed to a two-state solution with both countries able to negotiate a settlement on the Jerusalem issue, the resolution presented Thursday would not do anything to bring both parties closer to peace and warned it would only inflame tensions.
“Canada is of the view that the status of Jerusalem is part and parcel of the solution,” said Marc-André Blanchard, Canada’s permanent representative to the United Nations, in a brief statement following the vote.
“Canada calls for calm and firmly opposes the violence and targeting of civilians seen in recent weeks.”
Neither Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer nor Erin O’Toole had an immediate comment on the vote but NDP foreign affairs critic Helene Laverdiere criticized the decision by Canada to abstain, calling it “deeply disappointing.”
“Canada’s decision to abstain today, and its recent UN votes, are contrary to Canada’s own stated foreign policy on Israel/Palestine,” she said in a press release.
“At a time when Canada should be standing up for international law and promoting human rights, Canada is isolating itself. We urge the Trudeau government to uphold their own stated values, condemn illegal settlements, and finally stand up for the rights of the Palestinian people as well as the rights of Israelis. Canada has been silent on these issues for far too long.”
Colin Robertson, a former Canadian diplomat who was posted to the mission at the United Nations and the consulate general in New York, characterized the resolution itself as a game of ping-pong between Middle Eastern countries.
He also said he thinks Canada was wise to try and keep its nose out of the issue as much as possible.
“I’d say our vote was both prudent and consistent,” he told Global News. “But I’d sure bet having to make the decision was as welcome as the proverbial lump of coal at Christmas.”