Globe and Mail, May 2, 2013: Growing discontent among Arab nations over the Harper government’s pro-Israel stand is prompting joint talks on retaliation, with some eyeing a campaign to strip Canada of a major UN agency, the ICAO.
International Civil Aviation Organization, which sets international
rules for airplane transportation, has been headquartered in Montreal
since 1947, but Qatar is now bidding to relocate it to the Middle East
in 2016, trying to muster votes from 115 countries to approve the move
at a meeting this fall.
Some Arab nations are now considering backing the bid as a potential
focus for combined efforts to strike back at Canada for its stand on
Palestinian issues. It would mark a new avenue for Arab countries that
have criticized Ottawa before: a campaign that threatens concrete
Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s staunch support for
Israel and close relationship with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu,
and his vocal campaign last fall against the Palestinian bid for
observer-state status at the UN, has long been viewed with dismay by
some Arab nations.
The backlash has been fuelled by Foreign
Affairs Minister John Baird’s April foray into east Jerusalem to meet an
Israeli minister – a move many Arab countries viewed as a symbolic
acceptance of Israeli control over land it occupied in 1967 in the
Six-Day War, an area Palestinians want as the capital of a future state.
Mr. Baird’s response to the furor appears to have stoked the reaction.
an April 23 meeting in New York on Palestinian issues, Arab ambassadors
to the United Nations devoted a section of their agenda to countering
Canada, including mustering allies from other countries to vote against
Ottawa in international organizations, according to sources familiar
with the meeting.
Since that meeting, Qatar has made its new bid
to take ICAO’s headquarters away from Montreal, and some Arab countries
are eyeing moves to back it by campaigning to win the votes of other
states, sources say.
Losing ICAO’s Montreal headquarters would be
more than the diplomatic embarrassment the Harper Conservatives suffered
when Canada lost its 2010 bid for a seat on the UN Security Council.
has 534 employees and 37 full-time foreign delegations in the city, and
a 2012 analysis by consulting firm SECOR reported it brings
$119-million a year to Montreal’s economy. Its offices are designated as
emergency UN headquarters in the event of attack or disaster. If it is
moved, Quebec’s Parti Québécois government, critical of the
Conservatives’ foreign policy, would be expected to blame Ottawa for