Foreign affairs minister meets with Israeli, Palestinian leaders
There are 1,001 perils in the Middle East, and those that don’t involve language are apt to involve land.
Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister Maxime Bernier got a sense of both hazards yesterday when he called on Israel to halt the expansion of its settlements, widely regarded as illegal, on real estate most of the world considers to be Palestinian.
"Any new growth of settlements is contrary to the peace process," Bernier declared at a press conference yesterday following a morning meeting with his Palestinian counterpart, Riad Malki.
But there is a huge difference between Palestinian and Israeli interpretations of the term "settlements," and Bernier’s comment seemed to miss that distinction.
Bernier is on a two-day official visit to the Holy Land and also met yesterday with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, in an effort to provide a Canadian impetus to the search for Mideast peace.
"I came to the region to further boost this process and to offer Canada’s assistance to ensure that progress toward a lasting peace is achieved," Bernier said.
During a 45-minute session with Bernier last night, Olmert thanked Canada for its friendship to Israel and expressed an interest in arranging a meeting with Prime Minister Stephen Harper, according to Mark Regev, the Israeli leader’s spokesperson.
"My PM would like to have such a meeting."
Bernier and Olmert also discussed the latest push for an end to hostilities between Israelis and Palestinians, as well as sharing concerns about the mounting regional influence of Iran, whose president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, has mused about the destruction of Israel.
Bernier raised the issue of Israeli settlement activity in his meeting with Olmert, but questions remained about what exactly constitutes Ottawa’s position on the issue.
In meetings yesterday with Abbas and Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, Bernier and his hosts discussed a variety of issues related to the Middle East peace process, including Canada’s role in supporting Palestinian efforts to strengthen their internal security apparatus, build effective government institutions and promote economic prosperity.