Canada's new foreign minister hazy on history of Israeli Palestinian conflict
OTTAWA -- John Baird is acknowledging he's got some homework to do on the Conservative government's signature foreign policy in the Middle East.
Baird, named foreign affairs minister by Prime Minister Stephen Harper on May 18, says Canada remains committed to a two-state solution in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict -- with negotiations based on Israel's borders before it occupied East Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza in the Six Day War of 1967.
"We support, obviously, that that solution has to be based on the '67 border, with mutually agreed upon swaps, as President (Barack) Obama said,'' Baird said Wednesday.
The issue has become highly contentious since Harper blocked inclusion of the 1967 border language in a G8 summit declaration last week -- suggesting a major shift in Canada's long-standing policy for the region.
European diplomats have said Harper was the lone dissenting voice among the Group of Eight major industrialized leaders, a point Harper has not disputed.
Obama drew Israeli ire when he made specific mention of the 1967 borders in a major speech on America's Middle East policy last month.
But that's been the historic foreign policy position of Canada and remains so on the website of the Foreign Affairs Department.
While Baird maintained there's been no change, he appeared to have no knowledge of the historic United Nations resolution underpinning that policy.
Asked about UN Resolution 242, the usually glib Conservative minister was tongue-tied.
"I don't ... I've been in office for two weeks,'' he stammered, before snapping that he'd taken note of news media suggestions to bone up on the background.
Resolution 242 has been called the "cornerstone'' of Israel-Palestine peace negotiations since it was adopted in 1967.
It calls for the "withdrawal of Israel armed forces from territories occupied in the recent conflict.'' And it demands "respect for and acknowledgment of the sovereignty, territorial integrity and political independence of every State in the area and their right to live in peace within secure and recognized boundaries free from threats or acts of force.''
Moments after Baird spoke with reporters in the halls of Parliament, interim Liberal Leader Bob Rae casually dropped Resolution 242 into his own response to questions about Harper's G8 stance on the Middle East.
Told that Canada's current foreign minister was unfamiliar with the resolution, Rae expressed surprise.
"It is not only a number,'' Rae said, before rattling off the history of Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations.
"Go back to President Nixon, Mr. Kissinger, all that, all the efforts, the Madrid process, the Oslo process, all the events, the Annapolis process, more recently the effort that President Obama began. All these efforts since what, 40 years, are based on 242.''
Rae declined to twist the knife, however, simply saying the new minister "has things to learn.''
"We accept that nobody is perfect. I'm not.''