Canada and Israel both want to see a Middle East that is more stable, secure and free. Our two Foreign Ministers have just signed a Memorandum of Understanding formalizing the Canada-Israel strategic partnership, providing greater cooperation in international organizations, defense and security, counter-terrorism, education, economics and trade, and more.

 PM Netanyahu and Canadian PM Harper joint press conference


Copyright: GPO/Haim Zach

Following a joint meeting of the Israeli and Canadian governments at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper held a joint press conference.

PM Netanyahu: Thank you all. First, thank you, Prime Minister Harper, Stephen, for your magnificent words yesterday in the Knesset which enthralled so many of our citizens, and as you could obviously see, so many of our members. It was I think a memorable speech and one that will be remembered for a long time for its statement of principle and for its truthfulness and for its courage.

We’re delighted to have you and your ministers, Minister of Foreign Affairs, John Baird. John is a frequent traveler to the Middle East and to Israel. We enjoy our cooperation in the field of foreign affairs. I welcome too the Minister of Employment and Social Development and the Minister for Multi-Culturalism Jason Kenney, the Minister of International Development, Christian Paradis, the Minister of Industry James Moore, the Minister of International Trade Ed Fast and the Minister of Natural Resources Joe Oliver, and all your delegation.

We just had a very good meeting. It had, as you said yesterday, the coherence of values and we had the counterparts of these ministers, ministers of the Israeli government, talk about how we can further strengthen our cooperation in very concrete terms. We have an excellent bilateral relationship and I think this meeting today reflected the closeness of our ties and the potential of our ties. I think that cooperation makes us both stronger and more prosperous and more secure countries. And I think that this applies too to our discussions on the issues of the day.

We spoke about not all the world, but this part of the world and the things that need to be done to bolster security. And of all the national security issues on our shared agenda, none is more pressing than the need to prevent Iran from attaining a nuclear weapons capability.

Now you notice I draw that distinction: I didn’t say just to get nuclear weapons. It is to prevent Iran from having a nuclear weapons capability, the capability to produce nuclear weapons. And because a nuclear-armed Iran would not just endanger Israel, it would threaten the peace and security of our region, I believe of the entire world. It would give Iran’s terrorist proxies a nuclear umbrella. You can think about a world in which terrorists enjoy a nuclear umbrella: it would launch a multilateral nuclear arms race in the Middle East. It could turn the Middle East into a nuclear tinderbox. Not a good idea. And of course it would arm the world’s most dangerous regime with the world’s most dangerous weapons. So Iran’s nuclear program, military nuclear program, must be stopped and Iran’s military nuclear program will be stopped.

We also discussed negotiations with the Palestinians. I shared with Prime Minister Harper my goal of achieving a genuine and durable and secure peace. Those words are all interconnected, because a peace you cannot defend will not last. What we want to see, a genuine peace in the sense of ending the conflict once and for all. We don’t want just to cede territory to the Palestinians only to have it used as a hostile state from which to continue the battle against the Jewish state from improved lines. We want to see an end of conflict once and for all, and this is a peace that has to be based on two states for two peoples, in which the Palestinians finally recognize Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people. Of course, one in which non-Jews enjoy full civic equality, and I can say, as you could witness yesterday in the, what I call the robust Knesset session, that that is the case in Israel – everybody is free to make their voices heard, sometimes too loudly. But that is something that characterizes the Israeli parliament and only the Israeli parliament in a very, very broad radius.

We want to see a real peace between two states and two peoples in which ironclad security arrangements safeguard the peace. In the next few days, I’ll be meeting Secretary Kerry and I’m committed to working closely with him and making a real effort to make our quest for peace a success.

Well, Prime Minister Harper and I also discussed the entire region and the instability. What was once optimistically called "the Arab spring" has brought to many parts of the Middle East resurgent violence, sectarianism and Islamist radicalism.

Canada and Israel both want to see a Middle East that is more stable, secure and free, but the challenges facing the region are serious indeed. And to better meet those challenges together and to cooperate in the field of international affairs as a whole, our two Foreign Ministers have just signed a Memorandum of Understanding formalizing the Canada-Israel strategic partnership. The memorandum provides for greater cooperation in international organizations, defense and security, counter-terrorism, education, economics and trade, and more. We actually discussed just about every one of these issues in some detail today, in concrete ways, and I very much welcome the cooperation and the idea of further cooperation between our two countries.

We will update the very successful Canada-Israel free trade agreement and adopt it to the changing realities of a global economy. Our respective transportation authorities will enhance their cooperation in protecting air transport; we have some interesting technological developments that we think could assist in that regard. And the government agencies that deal with international development will broaden their work together in the developing world.

We have, I believe, a lot to gain from expanding cooperation in these and other areas. In fact, the sky’s the limit and it is so because Canada and Israel share, as you said yesterday, Stephen, a common set of values: democracy, liberty, justice, human rights and freedom. And Canada and Israel share a common set of interests: prosperity, free markets, technology – which is essential and coupled with freedom is extraordinarily potent – security, stability and peace. These common values and these common shared interests form the foundation of a special friendship and a unique partnership.

I am sure that your visit to Israel is going to deepen this exceptional relationship even further. I can tell you that there is, as I predicted, a very sympathetic, I would even use the word enthusiastic, response from the people of Israel to you and your visit. It’s a reflection of our appreciation for what you stand for and what you do and what you say. These are all important and they’re exceptionally important to the Jewish state. So welcome to Israel and welcome to Jerusalem once again.

PM Harper: Merci. Thank you. Thank you for those kind words. Thank you also for all of the hospitality.

I would say particularly today we had a very fruitful exchange between members of our cabinet and our teams, that I hope will lead to some continued and much more in-depth cooperation and collaboration in the years to come. But I do want to extend my personal thanks to you on behalf not just of Laureen and myself, but as I said our entire delegation. We’ve really felt welcome and really have enjoyed every minute of this visit.

The deep friendship between Canada and Israel rests upon strong people-to-people ties. Nearly 25,000 Canadians actually live in Israel, call Israel home. And as I mentioned yesterday, nearly 350,000 number Canada’s Jewish community, which is the fourth largest in the entire world. Our friendship also rests upon the firm foundations, as you mentioned, of our shared love of freedom, democracy and justice.

I’m therefore pleased to note that as you just saw, a strategic partnership agreement has been signed between Canada and Israel. This partnership will cement the goodwill between us, protect and promote the values we share and lead to greater cooperation in the future.

In our meetings, the Prime Minister and I discussed ways to increase bilateral trade and investment, and to create more jobs, growth and prosperity for both Israelis and Canadians. And to that end I’m delighted that we’re announcing today as well the launch of negotiations to modernize the Canada-Israel free trade agreement. This is a long-standing agreement, one of our earliest, but is also one in much need of updating, and particularly for our relationship where we see plenty of upside potential.

The Prime Minister and I also witnessed as you noted, the signing of a letter of intent for a partnership between Dalhousie University and Ben Gurion University here in Israel. And of course, we believe, once again, in areas such as knowledge, science and technology, some of the things I discussed both with President Peres as well as Prime Minister Netanyahu, we see great opportunity for collaboration between our two countries in these advanced sectors of our economy.

Of course we also discussed all the issues of regional peace and security. Canada will continue to strongly uphold Israel’s right to exist and flourish as an independent Jewish state and to defend herself and her citizens from those who seek her destruction.

My sincere thanks, once again Prime Minister for your friendship, your friendship and Sara’s to myself and Laureen. Just to tell you once again how greatly we enjoyed hosting you in our country. We’ve been so grateful for the kind hospitality you’ve shown in return on this our first visit to this historic and magnificent place, and I hope this… We’ll always remember it and I hope this will be the beginning of many more such visits.

Question: [Question in Hebrew to PM Netanyahu about the recent escalation in the south of missiles that have hit Israeli targets also in Eilat.]
And for Prime Minister Harper, if I may, does Canada, is Canada paying the price for being so supportive of Israel? Is it possible to support Israel and still have ties with the Arab world?

PM Netanyahu: [translated from Hebrew] We have a very clear policy. We thwart terror attacks if we identify them while they are still being planned, and we respond decisively against those who harm us. This policy brought about a calm year in 2013, the calmest in many years. If Hamas and the terror organizations have forgotten this message, they will learn it harshly very soon.

PM Harper: I wouldn’t want to say there is no price, but my general view of the world is that people respect your view, if you express it appropriately and they understand it’s genuine. You know, the fact of the matter is, Canada has deep relations with many Arab countries. Obviously I was at the Palestinian Authority yesterday where we’re a significant contributor to development of their institutions and security and governance. There’s other parts of the Arab world where Canada has important strategic and commercial relationships. And frankly on many matters where we probably far more often agree than disagree. So look, I don’t think it’s automatically the view that if you have a particular issue where you disagree, that this needs to rupture relationships irrevocably.

PM Netanyahu: I’d like to comment in English on the question to the Prime Minister. There’s a new Middle East out there. It’s different. I mean, there are automatic positions that are always voiced, but if you scratch the surface underneath, you’ll see that there is a concern in many of the countries in the Middle East right now. The greatest concerns they have are two: the first is the arming of Iran with nuclear weapons, and the second is the spread of the Muslim Brotherhood. And in meeting those twin challenges, these countries do not see Israel as their enemy, but as being on the same side of a difficult conflict. It is not that they agree with us on the Palestinian issue, although many of them say solve it as you will. But these two issues that I talked about – Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons and the aggressive designs of the Muslim Brotherhood – are what shapes many of the Arab world’s leading countries today.

Question: My question is for Prime Minister Harper. Sir, you’ve been here for a couple of days now. You’ve seen part of Jerusalem, you’ve travelled to the West bank, you’ve spoken to both Israeli and Palestinian leaders. I’m wondering what has made the biggest impressions on you so far, and have you changed your opinions about this region in any way?

PM Harper: The first thing that strikes you here, particularly when you’re talking about an era of intense conflict or potential conflict, is the real shortness of the distances, how small all of this space truly is, which obviously speaks to the security concerns of Israel in particular but security concerns that exist in the region; how truly existential any security threat of any kind really is; and it also speaks, obviously being on, I would also say being on both sides of the border and having yet another opportunity to speak to both leaders, all of this speaks as well to the desirability, the extreme desirability to find a peaceful resolution of some of the ongoing, unresolved issues in this particular region. I remain convinced there is such a solution and my conversations with the two leaders in the last couple of days, while certainly not shying away from areas where there are sharp differences of opinion, convinced me fore than ever that there are creative and  useful ways that peace can be achieved.

Question: Mr. Prime Minister, we heard your very supportive speech yesterday in the Knesset. Do you support Israel on the issue of the settlement building as well?

PM Harper: On your question, I’ve said repeatedly, I’m not here to single out Israel for criticism. You know, we’ve got more than enough people standing up in the world ready to do that. You don’t need me. I’m here to talk about our shared values and interests. There are specific questions on which we disagree. In terms of all of the issues around the peace process, I think you can find the Government of Canada’s positions. They’re available publicly, but I would just say this: I think the most important thing is that it is for Israelis and Palestinians to negotiate these matters and to come to resolutions that are mutually agreeable. And of course, you know, I would just say, and I’m just, I’m not saying it to wag the finger, just as a truism, but such agreements have to be reached and they of course will be difficult for both sides, but that’s the nature of such a process.

PM Netanyahu: My views about the Iran agreement reached in Geneva are well-known and I believe that I made them clear yesterday in the Knesset as well. Now we’re looking at the next agreement, and the next agreement must not leave Iran with a capability to manufacture nuclear weapons. There are many details to this, but this is the bottom line. And there is a danger that the sanctions regime will be dissolved and this goal will not be reached. So the jury is out on the international community, on all of us, to make sure that we do not enable the most dangerous regime in the world, Iran, to have the world’s most dangerous weapons or to be able to manufacture the world’s most dangerous weapons, which are atomic weapons. This is our mission and this should be a common, collective mission, but it is definitely our mission.

Question: I’m going to put a question to both Prime Ministers if I can. Prime Minister Harper, you have never publicly criticized Israel but you say that you have privately disagreed with Mr. Netanyahu on issues and that Israel knows Canada’s position on settlement expansion and concessions to the Palestinians to get a peace deal. So Prime Minister, did you clearly state Canada’s position on the settlements in your meetings with Mr. Netanyahu? And Mr. Netanyahu, are you okay with what Canada, what you have done on these settlements, but which the United States has said are illegitimate?

PM Harper: Let me answer first: the answer of course is yes and I have done so on many occasions and both, as I say, leaders on both sides know what Canada’s view is on this, which is, as I say, publicly available. I would just say this – once again, let me emphasize it: I am not here to single out Israel for criticism. I find it, you know, interesting – let me just make it as an observation – that, you know, yesterday in the Palestinian Authority, no one asked me there, no one asked me there to single out the Palestinian Authority for any criticism in terms of governance or human rights or anything else. I’m asked to single out Israel. When I’m in Israel,  I’m asked to single out Israel; when I’m in the Palestinian Authority, I’m asked to single out Israel; and in half the other places around the world you ask me to single out Israel.

So, you know, look, I think we should know from our own – let me say a bit more. We should know from our own experience in Canada, and I think notwithstanding all of our failings, we have a pretty good record on trying to conciliate and make welcome in our country people of many different languages, religions and cultures – something that was really imbedded in the DNA of our country because our joint French and British background. And the one lesson I think we have learned is that when somebody is a minority, particularly a small minority in the world, one goes out of one’s way to embrace them, not to single them out for criticism. That’s a fundamental Canadian ethic and that is why, I think, many Canadians understand the approach I’m taking, which doesn’t in any way, as I say, prevent me from expressing to the Government of Israel or to the government of the Palestinian Authority, the various issues on which we disagree and on which our disagreements, quite frankly, are matters of public record, and which, by the way, I think, expressing some of these differences when they’re not relevant to the vital interests of Canada on a day-to-day basis, it is frankly more productive to discuss with them in private settings where, quite frankly, we’re able to exercise much more positive influence.

PM Netanyahu: There are two things that I want to puncture, two prevailing myths. Well, one is no longer with us. The first one, which was repeated ad nauseum – you can check if you are a repeater – but until recently, everybody who knew anything about the Middle East explained that the core of the conflict, always in the singular, conflict; the core of the conflict in the Middle East was the Palestinian problem. You remember that? Now, today you’d be laughed out of most places – I’m not sure out of Concordia University last time I looked. But you’d be laughed out of most places, including the leading campuses in the West – even there – if you argued this, what was accepted as a common, obvious truth. Because today you look at Syria imploding; you look at Lebanon imploding; you look at Yemen imploding; you look at Libya imploding – shall I continue the list? Look everywhere, almost everywhere from Gibraltar to the Khyber Pass and the whole place is imploding, certainly the Arab world is in great instability.

And this has nothing to do with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It’s got a lot to do with the endemic roots of instability, the cultural and historic developments or lack thereof in the Arab world. Yet this basic truth was completely ignored and in its place was substituted this argument of the centrality of the Palestinian conflict. And today we know that what plagues all of the rest of the Arab world unfortunately could plague our areas as well, and we have to take it into account when we talk about vacating territory. Because practically the only places that are stable and do not have rockets fired from them or terrorism and violence perpetrated in them is in fact the places where is Israel is and some other places that enjoy a particular kind of financial support. That’s about it.

The core of the many conflicts of the Middle East is not the Palestinian conflict. But what is the core of the Palestinian conflict itself? And here you have another great myth, and the myth is that the core is basically the settlements. Okay, now mind you the settlements issue, on which Canada has a different position from Israel – I guarantee you, that’s the case, okay? But the core, the settlement issue has to be resolved and will be resolved in a context of peace negotiations. But it is not the core of the conflict. We know that because this conflict raged for half a century before there was a single Israeli settlement, before there was a single Israeli soldier in Judea, Samaria or Gaza.

This conflict began in 1920, 1921, with the attack on the Jewish immigration depot – murderous attack – in Jaffa. In Jaffa! And it raged on in the attack on the ancient Jewish community of Hebron; it’s been there since, practically unbroken since the time of Abraham – almost 4,000 years. And continued in the great attacks by the Palestinians on the Jews here in 1936 to 1939; there were no settlements there. It continued in the rejection of the partition resolution in 1947 that called for a Palestinian state next to – an Arab state actually – next to the Jewish state. There were no settlements. And it continued right up to 1967 when the West Bank, Judea, Samaria, and Gaza were firmly in Arab hands and it was meant to… to do what? To liberate the lands that were already in their hands? For 47 years, this conflict raged violently over what? Not the settlements, not the territories, because they were not in our possession.

So if you have half a century of conflict – 47 years, 46 years of conflict – there must be something else that is at the core of this conflict. And we have a pretty good indication what that is because when we actually vacated territory – well, one of the two territories, Gaza – we actually did the textbook requirement of many in the international community, which is uproot the settlements, go back to the ’67 lines and you’ll get peace. Territory for peace – uproot settlements for peace. We did that. We gave territory and we uprooted the settlements, but we didn’t get peace. What we got are, what is it now? Twelve thousand rockets fired there? No, no, from Gaza alone – 16, 000. Sixteen thousand missiles! Who can count? I mean, they keep coming, okay?

And when we ask, we ask the people of Gaza or the people who rule them, "Why are you firing missiles into Israeli territory? Is it to liberate Judea and Samaria, the West Bank?" You know what their response is? "Yeah, that too, but no, it’s to liberate Palestine." And what is Palestine? It’s Beer Sheva, it’s Ashkelon – Majdal they call it, it’s Ashdod and it’s Jaffa. They say it. Well, that’s the bad guys, the guys who use terror. Now happily we have partners across the road here who do not use terror, but we want to know, well, since Hamas is clearly committed to our destruction, we want to make sure the other people are willing to coexist with us. And we ask, what is the source of this animosity? Hamas in not interested in the settlements; they got the settlements. Hamas is not interested in territory; they got the territory. Hamas is not interested in the ’67 borders; they got it. Hamas is interested in eliminating Israel.

Now you may say, well, then the cause of the conflict is the absence of a Palestinian state. If it’s not the settlements, it’s the absence of a state. But we repeatedly offered to establish such a state, first in 1947 in the partition resolution; and then by successive Israeli governments, including ours. So when we look at the Palestinian Authority and we say, "So, are you willing, assuming we resolve this issue, assuming we resolve the settlements," which is not the core of the conflict, "will you recognize the nation-state of the Jewish people. Will you coexist finally – you get your territory under your terms." These are not my terms. "Under your terms – ’67, no settlements: will you recognize the Jewish state, for God’s sake?" "Mmmm" – that’s hemming and hawing, okay? Will you recognize the Jewish state?

Here’s the core of the conflict and here is the key to its solution: the core of the conflict is not settlements; the core of the conflict are not the territories; the core of the conflict is not the absence of a Palestinian state. The core of the conflict is the persistent refusal to reconcile to an independent nation-state of the Jewish people. That’s what this conflict is about – this conflict of the many conflicts in the Middle East, this conflict is about that. That’s why, in the course of these negotiations, we say that to have a genuine peace between us and the Palestinians, there must be a Palestinian acceptance finally of a nation-state for the Jewish people. If the Palestinians expect me and my people to recognize a nation-state for the Palestinian people, surely we can expect them to recognize a nation-state for the Jewish people. After all, we’ve only been here four millennia. That’s it; that’s what this is about.

And you know, when that begins, that’ll be a great day. When that actually happens, when there is a Palestinian leader – I hope it’s Mr. Abbas – when he has the courage to give what I call the Birzeit speech because I gave a speech at Bar Ilan University in which I spoke about two states for two peoples. And believe me, that required some doing, okay? Some saying sometimes required some doing, okay? If he’s willing to do that, that’ll be important. Does it guarantee that this will percolate into the Palestinian society? I don’t know. They’ve been, you know, using a lot of incitement and a culture of hate has been instilled there for generations, but it’s a beginning. It’s an important beginning, a necessary beginning. It may not be sufficient to maintain the peace and that’s why we need the security arrangements that I talked about.

But since you asked about the settlements, then yes, we’ll deal with it in the course of a final settlement of peace, but no, it is not the core of the conflict. The core of the conflict is the persistent refusal to accept a Jewish nation-state. That was a summation that you can put in a sound bite, but because of the plethora of distortion and shallowness of this discussion, as Prime Minister Harper has said about the general discussions about Israel, then I put before you a great challenge: put everything I just said in your media. If you do that, I will put a hat on and take it off for you.
Thank you very much.