Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Mulroney's Pro-Israel Bias Forces Canada to Speak with Two Tongues

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Mulroney's Pro-Israel Bias Forces Canada to Speak with Two Tongues

Article excerpt

While External Affairs Minister Joe Clark was speaking about the importance of PLO participation in Arab-Israeli peace talks during a press conference in Jordan, Prime Minister Brian Mulroney was telling the House of Commons in Ottawa that the Palestinian organization had been "substantially if not completely discredited" and that Canada's esteem for the PLO leadership was "zero."

After meeting with Jordan's King Hussein in Amman during a tour of the Middle East, Clark affirmed on March 6 that the PLO "retains an important role" despite its backing of Iraq in the Gulf war.

In Jerusalem the next day, where he met Israeli Foreign Minister David Levy, Clark reiterated his position that "Palestinians have to be represented by an organization that has legitimacy among them [and] at the moment, that seems to be the PLO."

The external affairs minister refused to budge even when Israeli officials predictably raised the PLO-Iraq alliance. "I am profoundly disappointed with his [Arafat's] behavior over the last seven months," replied Clark, "but it is not for me to decide who represents the Palestinians."

Meanwhile, in Ottawa, Brian Mulroney appeared to be humming an entirely different tune: "I must say on behalf of the government that anyone who looked at the current leadership of the PLO, particularly in their support for Saddam Hussain and their cheering of Scud missiles as they rained on Israel, would have to conclude that the PLO and its leader, Mr. Arafat, have been substantially if not completely discredited," Mulroney told the Commons.

The Canada-Israel Committee hailed his remarks, urging the Progressive Conservative leader to take them to their logical conclusion by suspending contacts with the PLO. "If the feeling [of the government] continues to be that this is an organization without credibility, then we question why Canada is continuing to talk to them," said Vice-Chairperson Shira Herzog-Bessin.

The apparently conflicting views of Mulroney and his external affairs minister also led opposition critics such as Liberal MP Lloyd Axworthy to complain that "it appears we have two foreign policies on the Middle East again."

Although both Clark and Mulroney denied any contradiction in their statements, their recurring different approaches to Middle East issues have almost become an accepted part of diplomatic life on Parliament Hill. At a recent press conference, there was approving laughter when a spokesman for Mulroney was asked only half-jokingly which position it was he was representing, that of the prime minister's office or of the Department of External Affairs. …

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