David I. Roytenberg

Fisking the NDP Motion in Canada’s Parliament on the State of Palestine

Two weeks ago the Canadian Parliament debated an NDP motion, which calls on the Canadian government to take a number of measures that affect the State of Israel and the Canadian policy in response to the current war between Israel and Hamas. The proponent of the motion and chief NDP spokesperson is Heather McPherson. It is important for everyone who cares about Israel and about Canada’s relationship with Israel to understand the position being advanced by the NDP and how it would fundamentally change that relationship.

Here is the motion M-113: State of Palestine, as proposed by the MP McPherson and seconded by 20 other members of Parliament from the Parliamentary Web Site:



(a) the House recognize that,

(i) the right of peoples to self-determination is enshrined in legally-binding treaties to which Canada is party, including the United Nations Charter, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights,

(ii) Canada’s official foreign policy states that Canada recognizes the right of the Palestinian people to self-determination and supports the creation of a sovereign, independent, viable, democratic, and territorially contiguous Palestinian state, as part of a comprehensive, just, and lasting peace settlement,

(iii) the State of Palestine is recognized by 139 (72%) of 193 UN member states,

(iv) the State of Palestine meets all the requirements of statehood according to the 1933 Montevideo Convention on the Rights and Duties of States,

(v) while resolving the current crisis requires not only a ceasefire, but a fair, viable, and lasting peace settlement negotiated between Palestinian and Israeli parties, the right of the Palestinian people to statehood, being a globally recognized right in the nature of a peremptory norm of international law, derogation from which is not permitted and which is of erga omnes character, is not legally susceptible to being made subject to negotiation; and

(b) in the opinion of the House, the government should officially recognize the State of Palestine.

While none of this has any direct bearing on the current conflict, Ms. McPherson has argued that this is a motion that was designed to be backed by all parties and simply calls on Canada to “respect international law.”

The first subclause (i) of clause (a) says that “the right of peoples to self-determination is enshrined in legally binding treaties to which Canada is party”. However the question of whether a particular group constitutes “a people”, for the purposes of the right to a state, is something that is determined on a case by case basis.

Do the Kurdish people have a right to a state? They certainly aspire to one. They have won a considerable amount of autonomy in Kurdish areas of both Iraq and Syria. There is also an insurgency in Turkey which advocates for Kurdish independence. Should Canada recognize a state of Kurdistan?

It should be obvious that recognizing a state of Kurdistan would put Canada in conflict with existing states, such as Turkey, Iraq and Syria. Perhaps that is why we don’t do it. Recognizing a state of Palestine outside the confines of a comprehensive peace settlement would likewise put Canada in conflict with the State of Israel (and possibly the Kingdom of Jordan as well, depending on the imagined borders of a hypothetical Palestinian State). Clearly, subclause (i) on its own doesn’t provide a compelling reason for recognizing a state, or we would be recognizing many other states that exist only in people’s aspirations, such as Tibet, East Turkestan, Chechnya, Quebec and the Confederate States of America.

Where territory is disputed, recognizing a state involves taking a side in a conflict. Recognizing Tibet would put Canada at odds with China. Recognizing Chechnya would put us in conflict with Russia. Recognizing Palestine would put Canada in conflict with Israel. Pretending that this is simply a matter of international law is disingenuous at best.

Looking at the second subclause (ii), we have a true statement. Canada supports a Palestinian State as part of a comprehensive peace settlement. This motion however calls for recognition of a Palestinian state even in the absence of a comprehensive peace settlement. This would be a significant change in Canada’s foreign policy. This is not just a matter of human rights. This is removing the conditionality on the creation of a Palestinian state, which requires that the Palestinians recognize Israel’s right to live in peace and security.

Subclause (iii) is also a true statement. A large number of states have recognized a state of Palestine in spite of the fact that Palestinian organizations and their allies continue to invest enormous effort into undermining Israel’s right to live in peace and security. The fact that a large number of states have done this does not make it right. It also does not make a hypothetical Palestinian state into a real Palestinians State.

Subclause (iv) claims that Palestine meets all the criteria for statehood in the Montevideo Convention. Article 1 of that treaty states that these rights are as follows:

The state as a person of international law should possess the following qualifications: (a) a permanent population; (b) a defined territory; (c) government; and (d) capacity to enter into relations with the other states.

This claim is not at all in accord with current Canadian policy. Does Palestine have a defined territory? What is it? Is it the territory captured by Israel in 1967, including East Jerusalem, as claimed by the Palestinian authority? Is it all the territory from the river to the sea, as claimed by Hamas and many on the international left? Does it include the Kingdom of Jordan as Yasser Arafat once claimed, and where he and the PLO tried to seize power in 1970?

The territory and boundaries of Palestine have been at the heart of every negotiation between Israel and the Palestinians since the Oslo process began. To claim that Palestine has a defined territory is to preempt the bargaining process and leave Israel with no bargaining chips in a negotiation with Palestinian leaders, who have demonstrated for decades and never more clearly than on October 7, their unwillingness to live in peace with Israel.

To accept subclause (iv) of the NDP resolution is to try to imagine an agreed Palestinian territory into being when it does not exist, and to preempt any Israeli claims that have been advanced at the bargaining table, to East Jerusalem, and to the built up areas along the green line. This is precisely what Canada has declined to do by adhering to the policy described in subclause ii of the resolution above.

Similarly sublause (v) is not presently Canadian policy. It says that the entire negotiation process that followed the Oslo agreement in an effort to reach a peace agreement with the Palestinians was illegal. Support for this process has been at the heart of the Canadian and western policy on the Israeli Palestinian conflict since the Israelis and Palestinians signed up to it in 1993 at Oslo. The fact that the Palestinians have reneged on the part of the bargain which requires them to live in peace with Israel is not a reason to pull the rug out from under Israel and say that they must accept a Palestinian State on the territory captured in 1967, even if that state is hostile to Israel and working actively to undermine it and kill its people. This is an unreasonable thing to expect of Israel or any other state.

Clearly, clause (b), calling for Canadian recognition of a Palestinian state is not supported due to the flaws in the first clause.


The motion in front of Parliament today has several additional clauses added, which are relevant to the war in Israel and Gaza. These include calls for the resumption of funding to UNRWA, which the government regrettably has already done, and for banning weapons exports to Israel, which has apparently also happened. The text also contains a call for the release of hostages, but very importantly also calls for an immediate ceasefire.

In arguing for support for the motion, Heather McPherson claimed that passing it would be good for the people of Gaza who, she claimed are facing starvation. In spite of being repeatedly asked by an interviewer on CTV’s Power Play how recognizing a Palestinian State would help the children of Gaza, McPherson never answered. Instead she pivoted again and again to other parts of the motion.

In the National Post, this article described some of the debate on this afternoon’s motion. Liberal MP Leah Taylor Roy suggested that the motion would create greater divisions between Canadians at a time of rising antisemitism and islamophobia. In response McPherson said

“What the member is suggesting is that the children around the world should die, should be killed, should starve to death and that the Canadian Parliament shouldn’t act shouldn’t take steps to put to put things into place that would help,”

Needless to say, the Liberal member took exception to this characterization of her position.

Speaking for the Conservatives Melissa Lantzman said

“This motion is about rewarding Hamas for their massacre. This motion is a vote to reward the murder, the rape, the kidnapping of Israelis, and this motion is deeply irresponsible for this Parliament,”

In response NDP leader Jagmeet Singh said

“Will members of Parliament vote in favor of peace, or not? Will they support a motion that’s calling for very important steps that Canada can take to save lives or not?”

When we look at the arguments advanced for the motion by the NDP we see that they are not really arguing on the merits. Their position is that opposing the motion means that you are supporting starvation in Gaza. It means you are opposed to peace. It means you are a bad person.

Clearly, feeding the people of Gaza or the establishment of peace between Israel and the Palestinians will not be advanced if the motion before Canada’s House of Commons is passed this evening. It seems that the NDP wants to get people on the record so that they can smear them in the future as favoring starvation or opposing peace.

Whichever way the vote goes today, we should remember the arguments that are being put forward today by the New Democrats. In spite of the claim by MP McPherson that they are merely calling on Canada to adhere to international law, their real goal is to separate members into two camps, with the camp that opposes them being henceforward pilloried as enemies of everything good.

People who side with Israel will henceforth be excluded, according to the New Democrats, from the community of good people. This is a dangerous position for Canadian Jews and anyone who believes Israel has a right to defend itself or negotiate for a political arrangement that will allow it to live in peace and security. We should all be watching who opposes this motion and who supports it and keep it in mind when it comes time to vote in the next election.

Late breaking: The motion passed as this article was about to go out, but only after being largely rewritten by a Liberal amendment which removed the call to recognize a state of Palestine. The new version calls on the government to

“work with international partners to actively pursue the goal of a comprehensive, just and lasting peace in the Middle East, including towards the establishment of the State of Palestine as part of a negotiated two-state solution.”

In spite of procedural objections to this amendment, the entire Liberal caucus joined with the NDP and Bloc to pass the motion as amended.

This article was originally published on Canadian Zionist Forum.

About the Author
David Roytenberg is a Canadian living in Ottawa, Canada, with a lifelong interest in Israel and Zionism. He spent 9 months in Israel in 1974-75 on Kibbutz Kfar Glickson and is a frequent visitor to friends and family in Israel. He is married and the father of two sons. David is Secretary of MERCAZ Canada and the chair of Adult Education for Kehillat Beth Israel in Ottawa. He wrote monthly about Israel and Zionism for the Canadian Jewish News from 2017 to 2020.
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