Foreign Policy Blogs

Canadian and Australian Policy on the Palestinian-Israeli Conflict

Credit: IDF

Credit: IDF

Both Israeli and Palestinian civilians are suffering in the wake of Operation Protective Edge. However, both Canada and Australia offer different ideas from the U.S. on how best to respond to the situation.

As Operation Protective Edge continues, both Israeli and Gazan civilians are suffering. Israeli civilians are living constantly under rocket fire. Too many Israeli children, instead of enjoying the beautiful summer weather, are confined to bomb shelters. Eating a lovely dinner with one’s spouse, sleeping soundly through the night, going to a restaurant with friends, visiting the grocery store, and other activities that Americans take for granted are being jeopardized due to the constant barrage of rocket fire. Stories of dead and injured Israelis, as well as damaged property, dominate the news in Israel these days.

In Gaza, the civilians are enduring a great crisis. Israel sends average Gazans fliers to flee so that they won’t be killed in the fighting. Unless there is a humanitarian ceasefire, Israel is bombing Gaza every day in an effort to root out Hamas terrorism. However, average Gazans are often caught in the middle because they have no where else to go. U.N. facilities, which are now overcrowded, are not 100 percent safe, because Hamas uses them to launch and store rockets, thus transforming them into military targets. Hamas even blew up one UNRWA clinic, just so they would be able to kill three Israeli soldiers.

Non-U.N. facilities in Gaza are even less safe. Hamas, instead of investing in bomb shelters for their people, built tunnels with concrete that was supposed to go towards schools and hospitals to wage terror attacks against Israel. Additionally, the borders into Egypt are closed off, because Egypt is fighting their own war against terrorism in the Sinai and doesn’t want a possible infiltration of Islamists that will harm their struggle. The Gazan civilians are therefore trapped in areas where they can get killed.

Meanwhile, most of Gaza is without electricity. Hamas members are well fed, because they steal U.N. food stamps, but many average people struggle to get food. When 20 Gazans protested against Hamas because of the food situation, they were executed by the Hamas terrorists. Hamas has also been documented physically trying to prevent Gazans from reaching safety and they called on Gazans to go to the rooftops of homes, to be human shields to protect their rockets and missiles. Meanwhile, as the lives of average Gazans are being sacrificed, the Hamas leadership is living in luxury in Qatar and shows no willingness to compromise for a ceasefire that will end the suffering of their people.

In the wake of all of these recent events, NGO Monitor’s founder and President Professor Gerald Steinberg invited Australian Ambassador Dave Sharma and Canadian Ambassador Vivian Bercovici to appear on a panel about Operation Protective Edge at the Menechem Begin Heritage Center in Jerusalem. At this particular event, the Canadian and Australian Ambassadors highlighted that their governments view the Israeli-Palestinian conflict quite differently from the Obama administration.

While the Obama administration aims to have Israel end Operation Protective Edge as quickly as possible due to the heavy civilian causalities incurred in Gaza, the Canadian and Australian governments aren’t demanding that Israel immediately end the operation under any terms, even though they do support the Egyptian initiative. (They don’t support mediation via Turkey or Qatar.) Both the Australian and Canadian governments support Gaza being completely demilitarized. Australian Ambassador Dave Sharma stressed, “The best outcome would be a demilitarized Gaza with international forces with the PA returning to Gaza run by a credible partner for a two-state solution.”

However, Sharma recognizes that this outcome might be too optimistic to hope for. He pointed to the UNIFIL forces in Lebanon, who have failed to prevent Hezbollah from rearming themselves and posing a security risk to the entire region. Ambassador Sharma added that international forces in his view however are the most successful if agreed upon by both sides. “The problem arises when it is against the will of the parties” like they were in Lebanon, he stressed.

Canadian Ambassador Vivian Bercovici stressed that international forces were more successful in the Sinai. “The Sinai was very successful. They are not with the UN. They are a separate group and work together well,” she explained. Ambassador Bercovici believes that any international force should aim for the Sinai model, as the UNIFIL forces are sitting ducks, are based on “outdated models” and for this reason, really have not worked well.

Although regime change is presently not one of the goals of the operation, neither the Australian or the Canadian Ambassador seemed to object if Israel were to overthrow Hamas and to give Gaza either to Egypt, the Palestinian Authority, or a Palestinian intellectual imported from abroad to rule the coastal strip. However, they stressed that it was Israel’s decision to make. The Obama administration, to the contrary, appears impatient for the fighting to end as quickly as possible and does not want to wait until Hamas is overthrown for the conflict to end.

In relation to aid to the Palestinian Authority, Canada’s approach is completely different from the U.S. as well. The U.S. is one of UNRWA’s main funders, donating $211 million for 2014. The U.S. has also pledged $47 million in aid to the Gaza Strip. However, the U.S. has no mechanism in place to ensure that their money actually goes to help the people and not get diverted to help terrorist organizations like Hamas.

Canada tries to stay away from funding political NGOs and to only support humanitarian projects in the Palestinian Authority. Canada stopped funding UNRWA entirely. UNRWA schools frequently educate the population to hate Israel and be opposed to peace. Hamas terrorists have been employed by UNRWA as day jobs.

Additionally, UNRWA offers band-aid solutions for the Palestinian refugee crisis instead of a real solution, such as resettling the refugees, which is what UNHCR does for every other refugee population in the world today. UNRWA, to the contrary, perpetuates Palestinian refugee status until Israel will accept them returning to the very villages where their grandmothers came from, a wish that will likely never come into fruition.

Furthermore, in this recent conflict, UNRWA found rockets in one of their schools and handed them back to the local authorities, who are Hamas. As Canada’s ambassador stated, “UNRWA is a challenge. We are focused on the humanitarian crisis. We avoid political groups.” Meanwhile, Australia does still fund UNRWA, but they are calling for investigations into UNRWA. Australia’s Ambassador claimed that his country is not a big enough power to make much of a difference by not funding UNRWA and that they can have more of a say by staying at the table. Furthermore, he stressed that UNRWA is the only game in town within Gaza as we speak, due to the authoritarian nature of Hamas.

However, if the U.S. were to threaten to remove their funding from UNRWA and other politicized NGOs, real change could come for the better. It is important to provide humanitarian aid to the people of Gaza at this time. But at the same time, there is no real civil society in Gaza, and it is difficult to offer aid without it getting into the hands of Hamas. Even giving to UNRWA is no guarantee that the aid won’t end up benefiting Hamas and not the average people. A mechanism should be developed to give aid while bypassing Hamas.



Rachel Avraham

Rachel Avraham is the CEO of the Dona Gracia Center for Diplomacy and the editor of the Economic Peace Center, which was established by Ayoob Kara, who served as Israel's Communication, Cyber and Satellite Minister. For close to a decade, she has been an Israel-based journalist, specializing in radical Islam, abuses of human rights and minority rights, counter-terrorism, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Azerbaijan, Syria, Iran, and other issues of importance. Avraham is the author of “Women and Jihad: Debating Palestinian Female Suicide Bombings in the American, Israeli and Arab Media," a ground-breaking book endorsed by Former Israel Consul General Yitzchak Ben Gad and Israeli Communications Minister Ayoob Kara that discusses how the media exploits the life stories of Palestinian female terrorists in order to justify wanton acts of violence. Avraham has an MA in Middle Eastern Studies from Ben-Gurion University. She received her BA in Government and Politics with minors in Jewish Studies and Middle Eastern Studies from the University of Maryland at College Park.