Gov. Gen. David Johnston wraps Middle East tour with talk of peace between Israelis and Palestinians
Monday, November 7, 2016

Canada's Governor General reaffirmed this country's support for a negotiated peace between Israelis and Palestinians as he wrapped up an eight-day, three-country trip to the volatile Middle East on Saturday.

David Johnston said resolving the historic conflict, preferably with the creation of an independent Palestine living in peace next to Israel, will help solve many of the problems currently plaguing the region.

"The way forward in this very specific region is a two-state solution and a just, longstanding and comprehensive peace," Johnston said in an interview from Jerusalem.

"And if one can achieve that, one goes a long way in dealing with some of the larger problems that exist throughout the region."

Johnston is the first Canadian Governor General to make state visits to Jordan and Israel.

The tour, which also included a stop in the West Bank, is expected to feed into the Liberal government's effort to recalibrate Canada's policy in the Middle East.

Trudeau has promised a more "balanced" position after a decade of hardline Canadian support for Israel under Stephen Harper.

But the Governor General's tour coincided with growing concerns over the fate of the peace process, and fears that a new round of armed violence between Israelis and Palestinians could break out at any moment.

Negotiations have been stalled for several years, with each side accusing the other of creating obstacles towards a negotiated settlement.

Palestinian leaders have been accused of encouraging and even inciting attacks against Israelis in East Jerusalem and other areas.

Israel's government has in turn been criticized for moving ahead with plans to build on land that the Palestinians claim as their own. It has also been accused of being secretly against the two-state solution.

The UN's Middle East envoy, Nickolay Mladenov, warned last month that the two sides could end up "sleep-walking" into another armed conflict, as has happened several times in the past 15 years.

Johnston, who described the political situation in the Middle East as "complicated," said Israeli and Palestinian leaders all told him they wanted peace — though they differed on the best path to get there.

But he said Canada was firm in its view that a two-state solution was the best option, "and anything we can do to encourage the representatives of those two peoples to get together face-to-face to negotiate the challenges, that is very much what we want to do."

Canada is supporting the push for peace in some other small but important ways, he added, which includes projects aimed at laying the foundation for a prosperous and secure Palestinian state.

Johnston cited several university projects as well as money for a forensics lab at a Palestinian police station and solar panels at a school for blind children as examples of Canada's work in the region.

The federal government says Canada spent nearly $30 million on different development and aid projects in the West Bank and Gaza in 2014-15.

"One has to find a resolution to this conflict, and the role of a middle power like Canada is to encourage it as much as we can," he said.

"We always come back to the idea that Canada's more direct role is to be helpful on the innovative and humanitarian and development front."

The Governor General also visited a refugee camp in neighbouring Jordan, which has been overwhelmed as more than 650,000 Syrian refugees and 55,000 Iraqis have flooded across its borders over the past few years.

Johnston was also on hand as Canada's ambassador to Jordan, Peter MacDougall, announced nearly $20 million in funding to help the country's municipalities cope with the influx of refugees.

"Jordan is crying out for help," Johnston said. "It's very prepared to do its share, but unable to do more than its share."

A United Nations appeal for $320 million to help the refugees has only been half-funded by the international community.

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Source: CBC / Lee Berthiaume, The Canadian Press

Photo: Canada's Gov. Gen. David Johnston, right, said resolving the historic conflict in the Middle East, preferably with the creation of an independent Palestine living in peace next to Israel, will help solve many of the problems currently plaguing the region. (Mussa Qawasma/Reuters)