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Analysis | Conflict in the Middle East: the weight of words

Natasha Kumar By Natasha Kumar Mar20,2024

Liberals are aware of their own political vulnerability on a highly sensitive issue.

Analysis | Conflict in the Middle East: the weight of words

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Canadian Foreign Minister Mélanie Joly indicated that the government intended to follow up on the content of the motion adopted Monday evening.

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Rarely have so many resources been mobilized in government to try to rewrite a simple non-binding motion from the opposition. Justin Trudeau's troops were well aware of the importance of the choice of words on the situation in the Middle East.

The Liberals – who hold the vast majority of constituencies where we find the largest Muslim communities, as well as Jewish communities in the country – know that they are between the rocks and the bark.

On Monday evening, a majority of MPs in the House of Commons finally voted in favor of a watered-down NDP motion aimed at promoting peace in the Middle East.

Negotiations between New Democrats and Liberals to agree on the text of the motion began last weekend. According to our information, Trudeau Cabinet ministers met exceptionally on Saturday and discussed at length the conflict in the Middle East.

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The leader of the New Democratic Party, Jagmeet Singh, believes that the fact for the Canadian Parliament to adopt a motion in favor of the creation of a Palestinian state constitutes a step towards “the two-state solution”. (File photo)

High-level talks between the two political parties continued until after 6:30 p.m. Monday evening, i.e. a few minutes before the vote initially planned on the motion in the House.

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The two parties finally agreed on around fifteen amendments which soften the original motion, giving the Liberals a way out allowing them to avoid further damaging their image of unity, which has been battered in recent months.

The initial version of the New Democratic motion called on the government to officially recognize the State of Palestine unilaterally. However, Ottawa's traditional position is that this two-state solution should be negotiated between the Israelis and the Palestinians.

The Trudeau government did not want such a change of direction and was going to oppose the motion if it was not changed. But a significant number of backbenchers still promised to vote in favor, risking once again exposing the fractures within the Liberal caucus on this issue.

We felt a wind of panic and division. We felt that a good number of backbenchers were going to vote with us, says a New Democrat familiar with the discussions.

A liberal source admits that the rewriting of the motion made it possible to have caucus management(caucus management). Indeed, rather than seeing several Liberal MPs break ranks at the time of the vote on Monday, there were only three to oppose the motion: Anthony Housefather, Marco Mendicino and Ben Carr, three MPs from constituencies where finds a large Jewish community.

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Liberal MP for Mount Royal, Anthony Housefather, speaks to journalists upon his arrival at the Liberal caucus meeting , December 13, 2023.

The motion passed Monday also calls on the government to stop the approval and transfer of other arms exports to Israel. Even though Ottawa had already suspended the granting of export permits for lethal and non-lethal military equipment intended for Israel on January 8, this element is considered a significant victory by the New Democrats, since Ottawa thus undertakes, according to them, not to export weapons in the future, as long as the situation does not change on the ground.

Monday evening, Minister of Foreign Affairs Mélanie Joly indicated that it was clearly the government's intention to ensure that it followed up on what was written in this motion.

Since the start of the Israel-Hamas war on October 7, the unity of the liberal caucus – very diverse – has been undermined. The Conservatives chose to line up quite firmly behind the Israeli government, while the New Democrats became the defenders of Palestinian civilians. Liberals are trying to find a difficult middle ground.

Within the liberal family, we can only note that positions have been taken according to community or religious affiliations, points out Sami Aoun, professor emeritus at the University of Sherbrooke. It’s unfortunate, because we lose the reason for state and what Canada’s interest would be. According to Mr. Aoun, with the adoption of this motion, the Liberal Party almost saved the furniture, because it was acting under the specter of quite deep dissensions.

The liberals have two constraints which make their positions on the Middle East more delicate than those of their adversaries.

First, they are the ones in power, with the diplomatic imperatives that this implies. They have no choice but to keep their eyes on what Canada's allies, a country that remains a relatively modest player in the region, are doing.

Second, it is the Liberals who currently hold the most diverse ridings on the electoral map. And who therefore have the most to lose politically from this conflict.

Polling analyst Philippe J. Fournier, creator of the Quebec125 and Canada338 sites, reports that the Liberals currently hold 23 of the 25 ridings where there is the highest representation of the Jewish community. This proportion is identical for predominantly Muslim constituencies: among the 25 constituencies where there are the most people who say they are of this religious faith, 23 were won by the Liberals in the last elections.

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Philippe J. Fournier is the author of the 338Canada blog. com.

The Liberals have no real choice but to try to pay attention to their electorate, says Mr. Fournier, noting that they are currently in difficulty in several of these ridings, according to polls on voting intentions. The Liberals' fall in the polls, however, began before the start of the conflict in the Middle East, he says.

Being in government during these conflicts hurts all the time, that’s for sure. It’s easier to be in opposition, explains Mr. Fournier. For liberals who try to be the center, who try to have a compromise, the position is always more delicate. Could they enrage both sides? The answer is yes. This illustrates the paradox in which the Liberal Party finds itself.

The Liberals are perfectly aware that, politically, they have the most to lose with this thorny issue on Parliament Hill.

Is it that the relationship with Muslim communities is more difficult than before? Yes. Have we reached a point of no return? No, says a liberal source.

The liberals are thus walking on a very narrow line, which becomes thinner as the conflict bogs down and civilian casualties – mostly women and children – number in the tens of thousands.

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Natasha Kumar

By Natasha Kumar

Natasha Kumar has been a reporter on the news desk since 2018. Before that she wrote about young adolescence and family dynamics for Styles and was the legal affairs correspondent for the Metro desk. Before joining The Times Hub, Natasha Kumar worked as a staff writer at the Village Voice and a freelancer for Newsday, The Wall Street Journal, GQ and Mirabella. To get in touch, contact me through my 1-800-268-7116

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