Next Year in Jerusalem: Joe Clark and the Jerusalem Embassy Affair

By Flicker, Charles | International Journal, Winter 2003 | Go to article overview

Next Year in Jerusalem: Joe Clark and the Jerusalem Embassy Affair


Flicker, Charles, International Journal


This article had its genesis in an MSc dissertation for the London School of Economics and Political Science

ON 25 APRIL 1979 THE LEADER OF Canada's Progressive Conservative party, Joe Clark, announced before the Canada-Israel Committee in Toronto that, if elected, his administration would move the Canadian embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. 'Next year in Jerusalem,' he declaimed, 'is a Jewish prayer which we intend to make a Canadian reality.'(1) Some four months earlier, at a press conference in Jordan, Clark had shied away from that pledge when he told reporters that any decision on an embassy move would require a successful resolution of the Egyptian-Israeli peace process.(2) On 5 June, at his first official press conference as prime minister, Clark reaffirmed his election promise in no uncertain terms. The embassy would move; all he 'would be seeking from the public service was advice as to how best to accomplish what we have undertaken to do.'(3) A mere 18 days later, he announced that the move would be deferred for at least a year.(4) On 29 October 1979 Clark informed the House of Commons that Canada would take no action on its Israeli embassy 'until the status of Jerusalem is clarified within a comprehensive agreement between Israel and her Arab neighbours.'(5)

In 1980, Howard Adelman examined the evolution of Tory strategy on Jerusalem from a 'no-policy' position, to a staunchly pro-Israel policy, to a government commitment to that policy, to a neutral position on the standing of Jerusalem, to a pro-Arab policy in the span of one year. Why, he asked, 'did the Tories make the moves they did?'(6) Adelman's impressive article, written only months after the events, has two shortcomings. The lack of a bibliography or references renders his account essentially unverifiable, and, as Adelman himself acknowledged, there were 'still significant gaps in the information available' and 'a more definitive examination of this issue may be expected in the future.'

In his account, George Takach relies only on press clippings and confidential interviews to support his findings,(7) as do other students of the Clark administration who have examined the embassy affair.(8) Norrin Ripsman and Jean-Marc Blanchard were the first to publish an article on the events that cited interviews with three players involved in the process.(9) Their analysis, however, deals mainly with the economic implications of the proposed embassy shift. They do not analyze the development of Conservative policy and devote little attention to the political causes of the policy reversal.

This article draws heavily on interviews with 15 people, all of them either first-hand witnesses to or key players in the generation, implementation, or cancellation of Clark's policy. Four senior Canadian Jewish lobby executives were also interviewed. All agreed to speak 'on the record.'(10) A significant portion of this article is also based on policy memos and personal communications from 1979 that were declassified by the government of Canada for the purposes of this study.

THE PLEDGE

Between November 1967 and June 1979, Canadian policy on the status of Jerusalem was based on full support of United Nations Security Council Resolution 242, which called, inter alia, for the withdrawal of Israeli forces from territories occupied during the Six-Day War (including Eastern Jerusalem and the Old City).(11) After 1967, Israeli foreign policy pursued international recognition of its annexation of Jerusalem by encouraging states to transfer their embassies from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.(12) The initiative was unsuccessful. In 1979 the only embassies in Jerusalem were those of the Netherlands and 12 Latin American countries - and they had all been there since before the creation of Israel in 1948. The Camp David negotiations spurred Israel to increase its efforts to persuade sympathetic states to relocate their embassies so as to provide de facto international support for Israel's position that all of Jerusalem should be excluded from territories designated for autonomous status by the Camp David accords. …

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