O’Toole said he believes Israel is demonstrating ‘great sensitivity’ in allowing the freedom to practice diverse religious beliefs at the holy sites … in Jerusalem
Jerusalem is the capital of Israel, the Conservative foreign affairs critic Erin O’Toole said Saturday, marking the first time the federal opposition has taken a clear position on the issue since U.S. President Donald Trump announced in December he would move the American embassy to the disputed city.
O’Toole’s comments Saturday came as part of a panel discussion at the Manning Networking Conference, an annual gathering of conservatives from across Canada.
Asked directly whether Jerusalem is Israel’s capital, O’Toole said, “Yes, it is,” to some applause.
“The strong presence of the Jewish people there is thousands of years old. But the modern era of Israel — the Knesset is in Jerusalem, the Supreme Court, most of the foreign affairs and government ministries in West Jerusalem. And you can support an option of the two-state solution while also recognizing that Jerusalem will be the capital of Israel,” he said.
“My personal view is that Canada needs more of a presence on the ground in Jerusalem. A lot of our allies have consular presences in the city, some countries have consular presences in East and West Jerusalem. So that’s where I think Canada needs to go.”
Trump announced in December that he would formally recognize Jerusalem as the capital and move the U.S. embassy there from Tel Aviv, a promise several presidential candidates had made over the years but on which none had followed through once in power.
“I can’t even understand why this is a debate. Not only is Jerusalem obviously and objectively the capital of the state of Israel since its creation over 60 years ago but it is the ancient capital of the Jewish peoples,” Kenney said.
He said he believes Israel is demonstrating “great sensitivity” in allowing the freedom to practice diverse religious beliefs at the holy sites that are located in Jerusalem.
Fellow panelist Jason Kenney, leader of Alberta’s United Conservative Party and a former federal cabinet minister under Stephen Harper, added he believes any settlement to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict must include assurances of freedom for faith communities and Palestinian people who live in Jerusalem, but “there will never be a comprehensive settlement that does not recognize Jerusalem as the ancient, eternal and indivisible capital of Israel.”
The legal status of Jerusalem is still contested even though Israel’s government mainly operates out of the city. After Trump’s announcement there was immediate criticism from many of Canada’s allies, who worried that the move would create instability and a barrier to peaceful settlement.
Protests erupted across the Middle East, and the United Nations General Assembly passed a resolution, 128-9, opposing the U.S. position. Canada abstained from that vote.
Amid the initial backlash, neither Scheer nor O’Toole would offer a concrete position on behalf of the Conservative Party. Back in December, O’Toole told reporters on Parliament Hill that the party considered the city as “central to the state of Israel and the Jewish faith,” but he stopped short of calling it the capital.
He said at the time the party would not “rush into any response based on the recent pronouncement of the United States,” and that his caucus would be discussing it and waiting to see what kind of timeline the U.S. would propose for its embassy.
Last month multiple media outlets reported that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu expected Trump’s administration to move the U.S. embassy into Jerusalem by the end of 2018.