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Palestinian rep wants Canada to appoint Middle East peace envoy

By Kristen Shane      

And new Taiwanese rep says Canada can do business with both Taiwan and China.

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The new top Palestinian diplomat in Canada says he wants Ottawa to appoint a special envoy to the Middle East peace process.

Nabil Maarouf, chief representative of the Palestinian General Delegation in Canada, says Palestinian-Canadian ties are good, but could be better.

Former Conservative prime minister Stephen Harper famously said Canada stands by Israel “through fire and water.” His government officials were keen to shun what they perceived as the old Liberal way of going along to get along. Critics said the Conservatives were pandering to the Jewish vote.

The main difference with the new Liberal government’s Israeli-Palestinian policy “is that we will stop making it a partisan issue,” said Foreign Minister Stéphane Dion after his first cabinet meeting last November. He suggested a return to the idea of Canada as a so-called honest broker in helping bring peace to the Middle East.

Mr. Maarouf arrived in Canada on Nov. 2, two days before the Liberal swearing-in ceremony.

“There are a lot of people who say that the government in Canada changed, so everything is going to be changed. I don’t think it’s that easy, you know?” he said in a Jan. 22 interview.

“Frankly speaking, for me, Canada is Canada, with the Liberals or with the others. If they want to change anything in the international policy, I think they are going to examine the interest of Canada and they will decide.”

He’s urging Canada to become more involved in the Middle East.

Many global power players have appointed special envoys for Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, he said, including China, India, Russia, the United States, Brazil, South Africa and the European Union.

“Canada should appoint a special envoy to the Middle East. And this special envoy, he can go and see all the parties there. He can see all the problems on the ground,” said Mr. Maarouf.

If this happens, he said there would be a chance Canada would take a more moderate and neutral position. It would change policy not because the Liberal Party came to power, but because the government would see new facts on the ground.

Official Canadian policy, as written on the Global Affairs Canada website, states, among other things, that “Israeli settlements in the occupied territories are a violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention," and that the settlements "constitute a serious obstacle to achieving a comprehensive, just and lasting peace.”

But in practice, Mr. Maarouf said Canada does not live up to these words.

What if what that special envoy saw didn’t fit with the Palestinian position? Sure, he said, that could happen. “I am sure, but in the end Canadians are human beings like us, they have their eyes…as they write all these things, they are going to see it on the ground.”

Even if the Israeli-Palestinian peace process is currently stalled, he said, it needs somebody to always move it.

He said he’s glad Canada has good relations with Israel. He wants the Canadian government to use those strong ties to talk about the settlements as an obstacle toward the peace process.

“If we are good friends and if I saw something wrong with you, I have to tell you,” he reasoned.

The Canadian posting is a challenge for him. Another of his goals is to get Canada to establish full diplomatic relations with his government. For now, he must call himself “chief representative” instead of ambassador.

But none of these goals will be easy. Mr. Dion released a statement Jan. 24 noting Canada’s concern with a spate of violence in Israel and the West Bank, which has continued for months. Mr. Dion reiterated Canada’s belief in a so-called two-state solution and called out both the Israelis and the Palestinians for “unilateral actions” that he said were “unhelpful and constitute serious obstacles” to lasting peace. Conservative MP Peter Kent has called Mr. Dion’s statement “outrageously vague” and is pressuring him to “explicitly condemn the incitement by Palestinian leaders for deadly attacks against Israeli civilians.”

Though the Canadian posting is challenging, it’s not the first time Mr. Maarouf has been in a tight spot.

During a nearly nine-year posting to Turkey, he helped negotiate a transfer of prisoners for Lebanese Shia people kidnapped by a Syrian opposition group. Over a year, that involved visiting the kidnappers and the people they were holding, and shuttling between them and Turkish, Qatari and Lebanese authorities.

“It’s a matter of network, public relations. If you know how to lead with others, then you can get some results,” he said, noting that he wanted to prevent sectarian violence that could come from a bad outcome, and boost Palestinian-Lebanese ties.

Before Turkey, he was posted from 1994 to 2005 in Spain, and served from 1983 to 1994 with the Organization of the Islamic Conference, an intergovernmental organization now known as the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation, where he served as assistant secretary general.

His was not the typical diplomatic education. He said his family fled to Lebanon as refugees in 1948, and while living there he was involved in the Lebanese civil war.

He didn’t become a diplomat graduating from a foreign service college. “I have been graduated from the school of life, you know—the life of problems, all kinds of problems we face; this was my real school.”

Now living with his wife Munira in Canada, they are able to visit their son, a dentist in Toronto, and daughter, also living in the city. They have four other kids in the United Kingdom, United States and the United Arab Emirates.

He said that means he has a “typical Palestinian family,” which is more or less “the United Nations.”

China, Taiwan and Canada: ‘This is not a zero-sum game’

Canada can do business with both Taiwan and China, says the new head of the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office in Canada.

“This is not a zero-sum game,” said Rong-chuan Wu in a Jan. 14 interview.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau last week stood alongside Chinese Ambassador Luo Zhaohui at a reception marking 45 years of diplomatic relations between Canada and the People’s Republic of China. Mr. Trudeau witnessed the unveiling of two framed photos, one of his meeting last year with Chinese President Xi Jinping, and another of his father, Pierre Trudeau, meeting when he was prime minister with then-Chinese leader Mao Zedong in 1973 shortly after Canada and the People’s Republic of China established diplomatic ties.

Canada has a one-China policy, which means it doesn’t maintain official diplomatic relations with Taiwan, which calls itself the Republic of China.

Mr. Trudeau has tasked Trade Minister Chrystia Freeland with expanding trade with growing markets, including China.

But Canada cozying up with China shouldn’t negatively affect Taiwan, said Mr. Wu.

“Sure, nothing is easy, right? We have to pay efforts to make a result. And we don’t see that automatically we are getting something,” he said. “For us, we like to see Canada promote relations with China. Taiwan and China, we have been engaged tremendously. There is no reason for China to oppose Canada and Taiwan. On the other hand, Taiwan has no reason to oppose China and Canada’s relations. This is a global village.”

Their interests are intertwined, he suggested.

“Taiwan and China are not mutually exclusive in Canada. Why? Because Taiwan invests a lot in mainland China. Canada and China [promoting] trade relations also benefits our investors in China,” he said.

Although Taiwan’s new president comes from a party that has traditionally leaned toward independence of the island and commentators have worried that cross-strait relations will take a hit, Mr. Wu said he thought the rapprochement the two sides had developed over the last several years would not be easily swept away.

“No matter which party won the elections, we would like to continue this kind of status quo with China,” he said, speaking days before the presidential election.

Mr. Wu arrived in the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office’s Ottawa bureau in early January, having spent nearly two years heading TECO’s Toronto shop.

Before that, he served as Taiwan’s ambassador to St. Kitts and Nevis and chargé d’affaires in Dominica, as well as serving at posts in Poland and Atlanta.

Prior to joining the foreign service in the early 1980s, he was a chief of police substation in Tainan County in Taiwan. He completed his diplomatic education at the foreign service school of Georgetown University in Washington in 1993.

He brings with him to Ottawa his wife, Rachel. He has two grown sons living in the United States.

In his spare time, Mr. Wu enjoys photography. He said he’s looking forward to taking photos of Ottawa’s scenery in the summer.

Until then, he has his hands full promoting trade and investment. Taiwan exports to Canada information and communication technology products and imports high-quality organic agricultural products, he said, pointing to a bottle of Taiwan-made soymilk sourced from Prince Edward Island.  He’d like to see more such co-operation.

“My main job is to…identify the strong items of agricultural produce and introduce them to Taiwan’s importers,” he said.

He said one of his goals is to promote more direct trade to Canada, rather than seeing exports to the United States then re-exported into the country.

kshane@embassynews.ca

@kristenshane1

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