Government and United Church positions

Shout out, do not hold back! Lift up your voice like a trumpet!

Isaiah 58:1

Why Engage with the Government

The United Church has been active in the public arena since its earliest days. The founding churches believed that Christianity is a living faith, and that witness to the ministry of Jesus Christ is expressed in active, thoughtful involvement in society. It is a responsibility of people of faith to consistently promote God’s message that every individual must be cherished and included, and that the Earth must be carefully tended. Our combined voices have greater impact when we speak together.

In its public witness, the United Church is non-partisan, which means that as an institution it does not endorse or advocate for any one political party. Instead, the church formulates policies and actions on public issues based on its own faithful discernment of the gospel mandate, and then advocates for those policies and actions with both the governing party and opposition parties.

Government and United Church Positions

Why does Canada’s position matter in terms of promoting peace between Palestinians and Israelis?

We live in a highly interconnected world. Especially since World Wars I and II, the global community has tried to resolve and prevent conflict by passing and enforcing international laws that govern the relations of countries, and to uphold international respect for human rights. After the Holocaust, in which over 6 million Jews were killed, the international community enshrined global laws designed to prevent such horrific crimes from occurring again.

There are United Nations Security Council Resolutions and international treaties that apply to the Palestinian–Israeli conflict. It is the responsibility of the global community, as individual states and through the United Nations and other international bodies, and through diplomatic relations, to uphold these laws. Canada has historically had a good reputation for its fair and principled position on Middle East peace issues based on international law.

What is the position of the Canadian government on Palestine and Israel?

  • Canada believes that the solution to the conflict is to create a viable Palestinian state that can exist next to the state of Israel, based on UN Security Council Resolution 242. Resolution 242 was passed after the June 1967 war, in which Israel occupied and seized the West Bank, the Gaza Strip, and East Jerusalem. The resolution states the “inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory by war” and calls for the withdrawal of Israeli armed forces from territories occupied in the conflict of 1967.
  • The Canadian policy holds that the Israeli settlements contravene the Fourth Geneva Convention, an international law that prohibits an occupying power from transferring its population into the territory it is occupying.
  • Canada condemns terrorism and rejects it as a means of achieving political ends.

A summary of Canada’s positions on Palestine and Israel can be found on the Government of Canada website.

How does the government’s stated position on Palestine and Israel compare with United Church positions?

There is much congruence between the stated policy positions of the government and those of the United Church. The most recent and comprehensive United Church positions on Palestine and Israel can be found in the Report of the Working Group on Israel/Palestine Policy, and in the resolution that was passed by the 41st General Council in August 2012, available on United Church Commons.

Are there any key differences between the government’s and the United Church’s position on Palestine and Israel?

The United Church and the Canadian government both hold to a vision of a state for Palestine and a state for Israel, each within internationally recognized borders, living at peace with one another and their neighbours in the Middle East. The differences arise in how to arrive at that vision.

The government has stated that a resolution of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict can only come about through negotiations between the two parties. 

There are a number of factors at play in the Palestine-Israel context which mitigate the potential of fair and just negotiations and even run counter to a just peace:

  • Negotiations can succeed when the two parties are somewhat equal in power and both have bargaining power. In the case of Israel and Palestine, as the occupying power Israel wields significant military, economic and political power and control over Palestinians, while Palestinians have almost no leverage with Israel. Negotiations have proceeded, on and off, for more than twenty years. During this period, the number of settlers in East Jerusalem and the West Bank has doubled, and Gaza has been the subject of an extended blockade, rendering life very difficult. Some Palestinians have likened the negotiations to two people negotiating over how to divide a pizza while one of them steadily eats it. During the so-called “peace process” of the past two decades, often in the midst of negotiations, there has been a steady erosion of Palestinian rights and appropriation of land,  decreasing the possibilities for a viable Palestinian state.
  • Negotiations should be used when the law is not clear regarding the rights of the respective parties. While negotiations might be useful for some aspects of the conflict, other aspects should not subject to negotiation as they are matters of implementing laws already in place. For example, the international community views the Israeli settlements in occupied Palestinian territory as a contravention of the Fourth Geneva Convention and therefore illegal. This has been the subject of numerous United Nation resolutions and a decision by the International Court of Justice. Negotiating issues that fall clearly under international law sets a dangerous precedent for the weakening and diminishing of respect for the system of laws that govern global relations.

For these reasons, The United Church of Canada advocates for a number of measures that move beyond negotiations, including economic measures that focus on Israeli settlement products. Canada has vocally and strongly opposed violations of international law such as rocket attacks on civilians, and rightly so. The church is calling on the Canadian government to more consistently apply international law, and strongly oppose Israeli settlements which are also violations of international law, and should not be the subject of negotiations.

Government and United Church Actions

What actions has the Canadian government taken to implement its positions?

While the Canadian government has a good body of policy as articulated on its website, its actions send a different message in many cases as there is an inconsistent application of policy. The policy cites the upholding of international law and human rights standards as an important principle. However, in late 2012 the Palestinian Authority petitioned the United Nations for non-member observer status. The Palestinian Authority broke no laws in doing this—on the contrary, it operated within the rules and boundaries of normal international processes. The Canadian government strongly opposed the Palestinian move and threatened retaliation in the form of aid restrictions. When Israel responded by announcing the building of new settlement units in a sensitive area of the West Bank (again, in breach of international law), the Canadian government equated this action with the Palestinian UN bid as “a unilateral action that is not helpful to the peace process.” However, no retaliation was threatened in the latter case.

What is The United Church of Canada doing to engage the government and other political parties?

The Unsettling Goods Campaign calls for these actions related to government policies:

  • Request that the Canadian government live out its stated policy on Israel and Palestine regarding the illegality of settlements, non-recognition of Israel’s annexation of East Jerusalem, violations posed by the route of the separation barrier, and the important of a negotiated resolution to the conflict.
  • Request that the Canadian government ensure that all products produced in the settlements be labelled clearly and differently from products made within the internationally recognized borders of Israel.
  • Request that the Canadian government ensure that products produced in the settlements not be given preferential treatment under the Canada-Israel Free Trade Agreement (CIFTA).

See Downloads below to read recent United Church correspondence with the Canadian government, as well as the CIFTA Policy Brief.