By the Blaze: Defying the advice of his diplomatic corps based in Israel, Canadian Foreign Minister John Baird did what officials from other countries won’t do. That is, meet an Israeli official in East Jerusalem.
During his visit to Israel this week, Baird met with Israeli Justice Minister Tzipi Livni at the Justice Ministry offices which are located in East Jerusalem. Livni was tapped by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to oversee the peace process with the Palestinians. Officials say this was the subject of their meeting.
Haaretz Diplomatic Correspondent Barak Ravid who broke the story writes in an article he titled “Canadian FM breaks taboo against meeting Israelis in East Jerusalem”:
Most Western countries refuse to let their officials attend meetings at Israeli government offices in East Jerusalem, lest this be viewed as recognizing Israel’s annexation of that part of the city.
Nor was that all John Baird did: He also visited an Israeli army outpost in the Golan Heights to view the situation on the Syrian border firsthand and receive an intelligence briefing on Syria’s civil war. The Golan is another area many Western countries bar their officials from visiting, lest it be viewed as recognizing Israel’s annexation of the heights.
A senior Israeli Foreign Ministry official said that Baird made both visits despite opposition from diplomats at Canada’s embassy in Tel Aviv.
A nongovernmental Israeli source involved in Israeli-Canadian relations noted that Baird also violated the East Jerusalem taboo last time he was here, by visiting Jerusalem’s Old City with an official Israeli escort. “Baird recognizes the sensitivity, but he wants to set a precedent,” this source said.
Baird’s move is all the more remarkable as it stands in stark contrast to another foreign affairs chief visiting this week, that is, Secretary of State John Kerry who met with Israeli and Palestinian officials in an effort to try to push a new round of peace talks.
The U.S., Canada, European countries and others do not officially recognize Israeli sovereignty over the eastern part of the city. Israel re-united Jerusalem after it captured the territory from Jordan in the 1967 war and considers both halves of the city to be part of its eternal capital. The Old City of Jerusalem, including the Western Wall of the ancient Temple, the holiest site in Judaism, is located in the eastern part of the city.
No country has its embassy in Jerusalem, with most – including the U.S. embassy – located in Tel Aviv, though in 1995 Congress passed the Jerusalem Embassy Act which calls on the administration to relocate the embassy to Jerusalem.
Most visiting dignitaries agree to meet with Israeli government officials whose offices are in eastern Jerusalem only in the western part of town or in Tel Aviv. The prevailing opinion in the international community is that the status of Jerusalem must be decided within the context of peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians.
Despite that opinion, many make a point of emphasizing the Palestinian claims to East Jerusalem. For example, while they won’t meet Israeli officials in East Jerusalem, European foreign ministers often meet Palestinian officials precisely there to make the point that they view East Jerusalem as Palestinian territory.
In 2011, President Barack Obama called for Israel to withdraw to 1967 borders, which would necessitate Israel to relinquish the part of its capital to which the Jewish people have the longest historical ties. King David established the Jewish capital in Jerusalem some 3,000 years ago in what is today the eastern part of the city.