A just foreign policy in the Middle East must recognize the necessity of a two-state solution, says internationally renowned human rights lawyer Irwin Cotler.
Cotler, the former Canadian minister of justice and attorney general, endorsed this concept on November 29 at Holy Blossom Temple at the annual general meeting of JSpace Canada, a progressive Jewish organization.
November 29 was the 69th anniversary of the 1947 United Nations Palestine partition plan, which called for a Jewish and a Palestinian state in what was then Palestine. The plan was never implemented because the Arab side rejected it.
Cotler, currently chair of the Raoul Wallenberg Centre for Human Rights and emeritus professor of law at McGill University in Montreal, listed 10 “foundational principles” for a fair and balanced Middle East policy.
The first principle turns on Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state, he said. Beyond recognition of its existence, Israel’s legitimacy should be respected and supported, he said.
He went on to say the Palestinians are “a people with legitimate rights” who should be granted self-determination within the boundaries of an independent and democratic Palestinian state.
The principle of “two states for two peoples,” a corollary of the first two principles, should be enshrined, he said.
United Nations Security Council resolutions 242 and 338, both of which are basic frameworks for conflict resolution of the Arab-Israeli conflict, should be incorporated into a peace agreement. Enacted in 1967 and 1973, they endorse the right of all states in the Middle East to exist within secure borders.
Terrorism, for whatever purpose, is unacceptable and should be categorically rejected, he said.
UN members are obliged to cease and desist from campaigns which demonize other states, added Cotler.
Hatred and antisemitism must be combated because they’re prejudicial to the cause of peace. Criticism of Israel’s policies do not qualify as antisemitism, he noted. But the denial of Israel’s right to exist is “hateful, discriminatory and antisemitic.”
Support for the tenets of democracy, good governance and human rights is essential.
International institutions, particularly the UN, must exercise fairness in carrying out their functions. In a jab at the UN, Cotler said Israel has continually been the object of anti-Israel resolutions on a disproportionate basis. He lambasted the UN’s Human Rights Council, claiming it hews to an anti-Israel agenda.
Minorities such as Christians, Kurds and Yazidis must be protected, he said, rounding out the 10 principles of a fair Middle East policy.
Turning to the current Syrian civil war, Cotler said the worst imaginable war crimes are being committed in Syria day by day. The refugee crisis in Europe is the direct result of that war, he said.
Claiming the civil war was preventable, Cotler urged the international community to establish “humanitarian corridors” in Syria to help refugees displaced from their homes.
Cotler was introduced by Jonathan Kay, the editor of The Walrus magazine and a columnist for the National Post. His book, Among The Truthers, was published by HarperCollins in 2011.