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Canada's aid politics fuel Palestinian division - Jesse Rosenfeld

March 5, 2010 2:28 P.M. (Updated: March 7, 2010 10:11 A.M.)
In a uniquely Canadian way - politely, subtly - the Conservative government has made a clear statement in support of Israel’s divide-and-conquer rule over the Palestinian Territories.

By slashing funding to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) and instead pumping money into the Palestinian Authority’s (PA) judicial sector - specifically toward training police, prosecutors and judges - Canada is playing politics with aid.

Canada is continuing its support for the UNRWA emergency fund this year, but is cutting funding for the UNRWA general program, which focuses on development and education. On the surface, it appears as though the Conservatives have simply redirected aid from an international organization that supports Palestinian refugees to a Palestinian-run body. However, scratch the surface and you find a brutal, Machiavellian reality.

UNRWA is the main aid and relief agency for Gaza’s 1.5 million locked-in residents, most of whom are refugees stemming from Israel’s creation in 1948. The organization is charged with providing services for the refugees until a just solution to their forcible exile is found. Canada's decision to cut core funding to the agency effectively scraps Canada’s historic support for UN Resolution 194, which supports the right of return for all Palestinian refugees of 1948. The larger ramifications of the move, then, make the Conservative cuts one of the government’s most succinct reversals of Canadian foreign policy in the region.

This is not simply an example of Stephen Harper’s diplomatic posturing for Israel. In an article subsequently reprinted in the Jerusalem Post, Treasury Board President Vic Toews told the Winnipeg Jewish Report that there was no cut in funding - just a reallocation to the PA judicial system, to bring aid in line with 'Canadian values.'

Evidently, Canadian values include funding a police force responsible for a two-and-a-half year campaign of political arrest and torture aimed at West Bank Palestinians involved in anti-occupation activities, primarily from the rival Hamas movement, but spanning the political spectrum.

The redirected aid will bolster the western-backed Mahmoud Abbas, President despite the expiration of his term in January 2009 or 2010, depending on how you read the election law. Supporting Abbas means supporting his program of security coordination with Israel and training PA security personnel by American Lieutenant General Keith Dayton. The US general is a veteran of the US invasion of Iraq, and has held the post since 2005.

Canada has not only stopped its meager supply of schoolbooks to Gaza, the Conservatives have turned aid into a gun.

The Palestinian Independent Commission for Citizens' Rights, the Palestinian Center for Human Rights and Al-Haq, an affiliate of the Geneva-based International Commission of Jurists, all found evidence that PA police targeted members of rival factions with torture practices.

“All night I used to hear the screams of pain from the jail,” said a friend from Ramallah, who lived next door to a prison where political detainees were held.

Wisam Ahmed, advocacy officer at Al-Haq, helped to prepare the organization’s executive summary report on human rights violations by the PA in the West Bank and Hamas in Gaza. It is called “Torturing Each Other.”

Although Al-Haq has raised the issue of a dangerous PA police track record with the use of torture with international organizations, there has been little movement for direct action. “I think there are various interests involved, and some of these third-party interests are different from what we feel are in the interest of ensuring Palestinian unity,” he said, referring to Israeli and American-led moves to isolate Hamas.

“If the international community is not interested in talking to all the parties involved, then their main interest is going to be to keep people sidelined.”

In its historical involvement in the Middle East, Canada used to use quiet humanitarian assistance to rebuild what Israel destroys. Now, Canada’s most powerful foreign policy tool is being used to join Israel fueling a bloody Palestinian fracture.

Jesse Rosenfeld is the editor of the Daily Nuisance, an English news and analysis site based in the Middle East. Rosenfeld has also written for the Guardian, the National (UAE) and many Canadian publications.

A version of this article originally appeared at the Daily Nuisance.
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