The Trudeau government likes to present itself as objective and evenhanded in its dealings with Israel and the Palestinians. But outside the world of savvy press releases, Ottawa pursues policies that enable Israel’s expansionism.
At the start of last week, prime minister Justin Trudeau had successive calls with the new Israeli prime minister Naftali Bennett — who has a record of blasé comments about killing Arabs — and Palestinian Authority (PA) president Mahmoud Abbas. Foreign minister Marc Garneau recently met with his Israeli and PA counterparts, calling for an end to Israeli evictions, demolitions, and incursions into East Jerusalem settlements.
However, Garneau’s boilerplate appeals conceal the reality of Canadian diplomatic support for the new Israeli government and the PA. Abbas and the PA are deeply unpopular with Palestinians for the same reason they are popular with governments like Canada’s.
Canada and the Dayton Authority
The PA recently canceled elections that it had already postponed for over a decade. According to polls, 84 percent of Palestinians consider the PA corrupt, and many are critical of its quietism in the face of ongoing Israeli settlement expansion.
In recent weeks, there have been major demonstrations in Hebron, Ramallah, and elsewhere in the West Bank, challenging the PA for its role in repressing the Palestinian liberation struggle. The PA has responded by requesting arms sales from Israel, asking to buy gas canisters, stun grenades, and “nonlethal” munitions to replenish its stocks.
The protests came after Palestinian security forces killed Nizar Banat, a 43-year-old media activist who documented alleged PA corruption. His family posted to Banat’s Facebook account minutes before he was killed:
Now the Dayton authority is arresting political activist Nizar Banat and confiscating all his possessions, including computers and phones, and brutally assaulting him.
Palestinians regularly denounce the “Dayton Authority” and “Dayton forces,” which are named after former US security coordinator Keith Dayton. In the late 2000s, the US lieutenant general oversaw the organization of a ten-thousand-strong Palestinian security force. “We don’t provide anything to the Palestinians,” Dayton told the Associated Press in 2009, “unless it has been thoroughly coordinated with the State of Israel and they agree to it.”
Israel’s internal intelligence agency, the Shin Bet, vets all Palestinian recruits. Like colonial authorities throughout history, Israel requires compliant locals to take up the security burden created by occupation. What is unique about the PA security forces is their international ties. As Adam Shatz wrote in a 2011 story detailing how PA security “undermine efforts by Palestinians to challenge the occupation”:
It is an extraordinary arrangement: the security forces of a country under occupation are being subcontracted by third parties outside the region to prevent resistance to the occupying power, even as that power continues to grab more land.
Canada was and remains the second-biggest contributor to the Dayton office of the US security coordinator. A fifth of Dayton’s initial staff were Canadians, including a Canadian brigadier general.
Under the Stephen Harper government, ministers repeatedly praised Dayton — Dayton received the Meritorious Service Cross from Canada’s governor general. Canadians trained the Palestinian security force in Jordan at the US-built International Police Training Center (established to train Iraqi security forces after the 2003 invasion). While the number has varied over the years, twenty-three Canadian troops and three Royal Canadian Mounted Police officers are currently part of Operation Proteus, Canada’s contribution to the office of the United States Security Coordinator.
“The Canadian contribution is invaluable,” explained Dayton to the Maple Leaf, a publication of the Canadian army. Canadians are particularly useful because, he said, “US personnel have travel restrictions when operating in the West Bank. But our British and Canadian members do not.” Calling them his “eyes and ears,” Dayton added: “The Canadians . . . are organized in teams we call road warriors, and they move around the West Bank daily visiting Palestinian security leaders, gauging local conditions.”
Canada has plowed more than $100 million into PA security services over the past fifteen years. According to Global Affairs, Canadian projects “complement the ongoing institutional capacity-building efforts by Operation PROTEUS.” This year alone, it has committed $8.8 million to Operation Proteus and millions of dollars more in aid to Palestinian security forces. In 2018, the Trudeau government initiated the $1.25 million Empowering the Palestinian Security Sector and the $3.5 million Security Sector Capacity Building in the West Bank projects.
In the late 2000s, at the height of Canada’s involvement in Palestinian security-sector reform, tens of millions of dollars a year went to the Dayton-led mission. According to former minister Peter Kent, Palestinian security forces received “most” of a five-year $300 million Canadian aid package that began at the end of 2007.
When Harper’s Conservatives threatened to sever aid to the PA for pursuing recognition of Palestinian statehood at the UN, Israel actually pressured Canada to maintain its assistance. As Canadian International Development Agency president Margaret Biggs explained:
There have been increasing references in the past months during high-level bilateral meetings with the Israelis about the importance and value they place on Canada’s assistance to the Palestinian Authority, most notably in security/justice reform.
Biggs also suggested that Canadian aid was part of a wider effort to protect the corrupt PA from popular backlash:
The emergence of popular protests on the Palestinian street against the Palestinian Authority is worrying and the Israelis have been imploring the international donor community to continue to support the Palestinian Authority.
Support From Ottawa
An associated objective of Canadian support for the PA security forces was to bolster Abbas’s Fatah against Hamas. In 2007, the Canadian ambassador to Israel, Jon Allen, stated that Ottawa supported the Palestinian police “to ensure that the PA maintains control of the West Bank against Hamas.” Keith Dayton himself all but admitted that he was strengthening Fatah against Hamas, telling a US audience in 2009 that his force was “working against illegal Hamas activities.” Between 2007 and 2011, PA security forces arrested over ten thousand suspected Hamas supporters in the West Bank.
After Hamas won legislative elections monitored and facilitated by Canada in 2006, Canada was the first country, after Israel, to cut its assistance to the PA. The aid cutoff was designed to isolate Hamas, which has long been a Canadian objective. To this end, Canada has, over the past two decades, criminalized Palestinian political life. Ottawa has designated eight Palestinian organizations as terrorist groups, which means that Canadians cannot support these groups in any way.
The federal government must review the listed organizations’ status every five years. In late June, the Trudeau government relisted Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine – General Command. Liberal governments originally listed all of these organizations in the early 2000s.
The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine is a secular, left-wing organization that barely engages in armed struggle today. In 2006, Hamas won the Palestinian elections fair and square with a big majority of seats. Boycotting the election victor was not enough — Canada insisted on maintaining its terrorist designation.
In 2018, the Trudeau government relisted the first ever Canadian-based group to have been designated a terrorist organization. The Canadian authorities had branded the International Relief Fund for the Afflicted and Needy as a terrorist organization in 2014 for supporting orphans and a hospital in Gaza through official, Hamas-controlled channels.
The Trudeau government has proffered innumerable forms of diplomatic, economic, and security support to Israel, ranging from arms sales and an enhanced free-trade agreement to security force collaboration and diplomatic visits. It has also provided more unconventional backing: celebrating Canadians fighting in the Israeli military; withdrawing from a major UN conference on racism to placate Israel’s Canadian supporters; declaring Canadian willingness to act as an “asset” for Israel if it gained a UN Security Council seat; and spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to stop consumers from knowing where wines are produced so as to obscure Israeli land theft.
For all the Trudeau government’s proclamations of evenhandedness, the facts tell a different story. Everything that Ottawa does is calculated to back up Israeli interests, from explicit support for Israel to nominal assistance to Palestinians that is really designed to help perpetuate Israeli rule over them.