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Well-Intentioned But Perhaps Misguided? The NDP Motion on the Israel-Hamas War

By Randy Pinsky

On March 18, Canada’s left-leaning New Democratic Party (NDP) proposed a controversial motion regarding the Israel-Hamas war. “Calling on the [ruling] Liberal government to act for peace and justice in Palestine and Israel,” clauses included demands for an immediate ceasefire, increased aid to the Palestinians, an arms embargo to Israel, and official recognition of a Palestinian state.

After going through a series of last-minute amendments in which the last clause was removed, it was voted in 204:117.

What are the implications of such a motion, both locally and abroad? Will it contribute to securing peace and stability in the region as the NDP claims…or does it reward terrorism?

The Motion

“Canadians…want peace and justice for Palestinians and Israelis,“ stated NDP leader Jagmeet Singh. “But to get there, the Liberal government needs to be a part of the solution- not the problem.” 

Canada’s Actions to Promote Peace in the Middle East, proposed by Edmonton Member of Parliament (MP) and NDP Foreign Affairs Critic Heather McPherson, put forward nine clauses to address the situation.

A surface reading of the proposition suggests it comes from a place of good intentions, with Singh committing that “Palestinians and Israelis both deserve to live in peace, with full enjoyment of their human rights and democratic freedoms.”

What could possibly be wrong with such a motion? 

Let’s Unpack This

After briefly contextualizing the conflict, the proposal called for an unconditional ceasefire, an embargo on Canadian weapon sales, the immediate return of the hostages, increased humanitarian funding to the Palestinians, and, most controversially, the recognition of a Palestinian state.

The proposal, in its initial state, was met with criticism by the Liberals, prompting Minister of Foreign Affairs Mélanie Joly to request last minute amendments. While adjustments were made to address some of the more glaring problems, Opposition Party Leader Andrew Sheer advised Deputy Speaker Chris d'Entremont to rule the amendments out of order due to the questionable parliamentary procedure and protocol. At the very least, he recommended deferring the vote so that MPs could properly review these “back of the napkin” alterations prior to making an informed decision.

In response to the vote, Israeli Foreign Affairs Minister Israel Katz commented, “It’s regrettable that the Canadian government is taking a step that undermines Israel's right to self-defense against Hamas terrorists. History will judge Canada's current action harshly.” Indeed, passing the motion forward would demonstrate a significant shift in Canada’s position as an historic ally of Israel.

What are the implications of the more controversial proposed clauses?

Unconditional Ceasefire

The Proposal

“The children of Gaza are traumatized and starving to death, “said McPherson who led the motion. “These children are not Hamas,” in response to Israel’s mission to neutralize the terrorist threat.

A general consensus voiced by global leaders is that a ceasefire would allow the Palestinians to rebuild as well as enable negotiations critical for the release of the remaining hostages- all true, except for a couple of omitted facts. 

The Problem

Many are disturbed by the numbers of civilian casualties and understandably so. What is overlooked however, is that Hamas holds its own people hostage by not only using mosques and hospitals as weapons caches and launching pads, but also threatens civilians should they attempt to leave. By passing militants off as regular Gazans and using women and children as human shields, this is a deliberate strategy to raise the numbers and garner worldwide outrage.  

As explained by Liberal MP Anthony Housefather, in order for a ceasefire to be effective, both parties need to be held accountable. Hamas has repeatedly broken ceasefires with Israel (the most glaring one being that on October 6) and does not view them as means to negotiate peaceful coexistence, but rather to re-arm and re-attack. He condemned the ceasefire proposed  and “false equivalency” between Israel and Hamas made by the NDP as akin to rewarding a recognized terrorist organization.

An Arms Embargo

The Proposal

The NDP argued that Canada should ‘reduce its complicity’ in the war by ceasing weapons sales[1] to Israel. The clause includes military goods and technology that could be used militarily. 

The Problem

The lack of an equivalent demand for Hamas to lay down its arms presents a concerning imbalance (although such a condition would be added in the amendments). This clause was viewed with alarm as abandoning Israel in its time of need, placing full blame for the conflict on it. Halting weapons sales to Israel for self-defense against a terrorist group who have openly stated the desire to repeat October 7th, would be akin to abandoning Ukraine in its war with Russia. In both cases, there is a misguided assumption that such an action would somehow lead to peace, neglecting the historically demonstrated character of the provocateur.

Increased Humanitarian Funding

The Proposal

Canada, like several other countries, cancelled its contributions to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) after it was exposed to having been involved in the October 7th massacre. It was the first of the G7 countries to reinstate funding; in fact, its next commitment of $25 million is coming up in April.

The Problem

Evidence from textbooks and curriculums in UNRWA-run schools have demonstrated that they have long been complicit in fostering anti-Israel and anti-semitic rhetoric, promoting violence and intolerance as well as a skewed narrative of the situation. Specifically, they perpetuate the belief of an inherited refugee status, fostering an identity based on victimhood rather than progress or any attempts at reconciliation.

There are thus legitimate concerns about what renewed- and in fact, increased- funding would do. Why, after billions of dollars have been sent over the decades, is the situation still so dire? With evidence that Hamas has stolen much of the aid and supplies for its own aims (most predominantly, money, food, fuel and cement designated for schools and buildings), they are intentionally holding their own people in a state of stagnancy and resentment.

What about claims that Israel is blocking and delaying humanitarian aid trucks from entering Gaza? With the very real risk of weapons being smuggled in, supplies need to be carefully verified. Inefficiencies in distribution, moreover, lie with the UN and other aid agencies as well as looting by Hamas. Such decontextualized oversimplifications fostered strongly in the motion. 

A Palestinian State

The Proposal

One of the most controversial clauses was the recognition of a Palestinian state, without any details about borders, rulership, or any of the ‘how’s’.

The Problem

While the oft-reported panacea to the crisis is a “two-state solution,” it must be reiterated that there have been close to half a dozen land-for-peace proposals in the history of the region (the most recent in 2006 when Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert offered 93% of the West Bank to Palestinian Authority President Mahmood Abbas), all of which were rejected by the Palestinians. A counterfactual would claim they could have had a state several times over.

In 2005, Israel withdrew completely out of Gaza, but rather than creating a state and infrastructure, Hamas took power in 2007 and allocated all the resources to developing terror tunnels and shooting rockets at Israeli cities. Such a context therefore poses significant questions to the proposal for an independent state. 

Not Waving a Magical Wand

According to the 1933 Montevideo Convention on the Rights and Duties of States which codified the international theory of statehood, there are several conditions which must be met before an entity can be recognized as an independent sovereign state. These include: a permanent population; a defined territory; government; and capacity to enter into relations with the other states.

At the moment, three out of four conditions are missing for there to be a viable Palestinian state.

As  Conservative Foreign Affairs Critic Michael Chong noted, a two-state solution could only come about from negotiation between Israeli and Palestinian representatives, “not …through some sort of unilateral declaration of the House of Commons.” How would land be divided? Who would have jurisdiction over what? What would the borders look like? And perhaps most importantly, is there a commitment to peaceful coexistence, stipulated in article 10 of the Montevideo Convention?

Indeed, what would giving a state in these times implicate? Does this not seem to be rewarding terrorism and setting a dangerous precedent? It “foregoes the necessary bilateral negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, and will leave critical issues unresolved, including borders and the status of Jerusalem and Palestinian refugees.”[2]

So What is the Outcome?

With amendments (literally) made at the 11th hour, there is still confusion as to the implications of this non-binding motion. The NDP touted its forcing the Canadian government to be on the right side of history, whereas many Jewish and Israeli groups were dismayed at the dangerous precedent and decontextualized assertions.

So while something must be done to address the situation in the Middle East, real solutions require real facts; not assumptions. Peace cannot be forced - it requires two willing partners.


[1]An amendment stated that Canada would not renew or seek out new contracts, but would respect those already in place since January. 

[2] This controversial clause was amended to stipulate that Canada would “work with international partners…to pursue the goal of a comprehensive, just and lasting peace in the Middle East…and towards the establishment of the State of Palestine as part of a negotiated two-state solution.”

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