Few aspects of Canadian foreign policy have been mentioned more times over the past two weeks than Ottawa’s 300 million dollar five year aid program to the Palestinians.
Ever since the Globe and Mail reported on November 26 that Prime Minister Stephen Harper threatened Mahmoud Abbas that “there will be consequences” if he followed through on his plan to ask the UN General Assembly to upgrade Palestine’s status there has been a great deal of speculation about whether Canadian “aid” would be cut off. A quick Google search brings up hundreds of articles mentioning the 300 million dollars in funding yet none of them mention the highly politicized character of this “aid”.
After Hamas won legislative elections in January 2006 the Conservatives made Canada the first country (after Israel) to cut off funding to the Palestinian Authority (PA). When Hamas officials were ousted from the Palestinian unity government in June 2007, the Conservatives immediately contributed $8 million “in direct support to the new government.” Then in December 2007 the Conservatives announced a five-year $300 million aid program to the Palestinians, which was largely designed to serve Israel’s interests.
A Saint John Telegraph-Journal headline explained: “Canada’s aid to Palestine benefits Israel, foreign affairs minister says.” In January 2008 foreign minister Maxime Bernier said: “We are doing that [providing aid to the PA] because we want Israel to be able to live in peace and security with its neighbours.”
Most of the Canadian aid money has gone to building up a Palestinian security force overseen by a US general. The immediate impetus of the Canadian aid was to create a Palestinian security force “to ensure that the PA maintains control of the West Bank against Hamas,” as Canadian Ambassador to Israel Jon Allen was quoted as saying by the Canadian Jewish News. American General Keith Dayton, in charge of organizing a 10,000-member Palestinian security force, even admitted that he was strengthening Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah against Hamas, telling a US audience in May 2009 his force was “working against illegal Hamas activities.” According to Al Jazeera, between 2007 and early 2011 PA security forces arrested some 10,000 suspected Hamas supporters in the West Bank.
The broader aim of the US-Canada-Britain initiated Palestinian security reform was to build a force to patrol Israel’s occupied territories. In a 2011 profile of Canadian Lieutenant-Colonel Ron Allison, “Dayton’s chief of liaison in the West Bank” for a year, his hometown newspaper reported: “The Dayton team was concerned with enhancing security on the West Bank of Palestine and was all geared towards looking after and ensuring the security of Israel, said Ron.”
“We don’t provide anything to the Palestinians,” noted Dayton, “unless it has been thoroughly coordinated with the state of Israel and they agree to it.” For instance, Israel’s internal intelligence agency, the Shin-Bet, vets all of the Palestinian recruits.
The Israelis supported Dayton’s force as a way to keep the West Bank population under control. Like all colonial authorities throughout history Israel looked to compliant locals to take up the occupation’s security burden. In a December 2011 article titled “[Ehud] Barak admires PA security forces for protecting [Israeli] settlers [in the West Bank]” a Palestinian news agency described an interview the Israeli defence minister gave to a Hebrew radio station.
Writing in a July 2011 issue of the London Review of Books Adam Shatz explained:
“The PA already uses the American-trained National Security Force to undermine efforts by Palestinians to challenge the occupation. (Hamas, in Gaza, has cracked down on protest even more harshly.) ‘They are the police of the occupation,’ Myassar Atyani, a leader of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, told me. ‘Their leadership is not Palestinian, it is Israeli.’ On 15 May – the day Palestinians commemorate their Nakba [the 1948 destruction of Palestinian society] – more than a thousand Palestinians, mainly young men, marched to the Qalandia checkpoint between Ramallah and Jerusalem and clashed with Israeli soldiers; but when Atyani tried to lead a group of demonstrators to the Hawara checkpoint outside Nablus, PA security forces stopped them. The road from Ramallah to Qalandia is in Area C, which is not controlled by the PA; the road from Nablus to Hawara is in Area A, which is. And protesters who have attempted to march to settlements along PA-controlled roads have also found themselves turned back. It is an extraordinary arrangement: the security forces of a country under occupation are being subcontracted by third parties outside the region to prevent resistance to the occupying power, even as that power continues to grab more land. This is, not surprisingly, a source of considerable anger and shame in the West Bank.”
The Palestinian security force is largely trained in Jordan at the US- built International Police Training Center (created to train Iraqi security after the 2003 invasion). In October 2009 the Wall Street Journal reported: “[Palestinian] recruits are trained in Jordan by Jordanian police, under the supervision of American, Canadian, and British officers.” The number of military trainers in the West Bank varied slightly but in mid-2010 18 Canadian troops worked with six British and ten US soldiers under Dayton’s command. “The Canadian contribution is invaluable,” explained Dayton. Canadians are particularly useful because “US personnel have travel restrictions when operating in the West Bank. But, our British and Canadian members do not.” Calling them his “eyes and ears” Dayton said: “The Canadians … are organized in teams we call road warriors, and they move around the West Bank daily visiting Palestinian security leaders, gauging local conditions.”
Part of the US Security Coordinator office in Jerusalem, the Canadian military mission in the West Bank (dubbed Operation PROTEUS) includes RCMP officers as well as officials from Foreign Affairs, Justice Canada and the Canadian Border Services Agency. In a September 2010 interview with the Jerusalem Post then deputy foreign minister Peter Kent said Operation PROTEUS was Canada’s “second largest deployment after Afghanistan” and it receives “most of the money” from the five-year $300 million Canadian “aid” program to the Palestinians. During a visit to Israel in February, foreign minister John Baird told the Globe and Mail he was “incredibly thrilled” by the West Bank security situation, which he said benefited Israel.
In effect, Canada has helped to build a security apparatus to protect a corrupt PA led by Mahmoud Abbas, whose electoral mandate expired in January 2009, but whom the Israeli government prefers over Hamas.
Don’t expect the Conservative government to sever this “aid”.
Yves Engler’s latest book is Lester Pearson’s Peacekeeping: the truth may hurt.