Canada takes strong pro-Israel line at G8 summit

DEAUVILLE, France (Reuters) - Group of Eight leaders had to soften a statement urging Israel and the Palestinians to return to negotiations because Canada objected to a specific mention of 1967 borders, diplomats said Friday.

The government has adopted a staunchly pro-Israel position in international negotiations since coming to power in 2006, with Prime Minister Stephen Harper saying Canada will back Israel whatever the cost.

Diplomats involved in Middle East discussions at the G8 summit said Ottawa had insisted that no mention of Israel’s pre-1967 borders be made in the leaders’ final communique, even though most of the other leaders wanted such a reference.

The communique called for the immediate resumption of peace talks but did not mention 1967, the year Israel seized the West Bank and Gaza from Jordan and Egypt during the Six-Day War.

U.S. President Barack Obama last week laid out a vision for peace in the Middle East, saying pre-1967 borders should be a basis for talks to achieve a negotiated settlement. Israel quickly dismissed the idea as unworkable.

“The Canadians were really very adamant, even though Obama expressly referred to 1967 borders in his speech last week,” one European diplomat said.

Harper, pressed repeatedly by reporters, declined to confirm he had objected to the language on borders but said he would oppose what he called unbalanced statements on finding peace in the Middle East.

“We are very much at ease with President Obama’s speech but you cannot cherry pick elements of that speech,” he said.

“If you’re going to get into other elements then obviously I would have liked to see a reference to elements that were also in ... (the) speech, such as for instance the fact that one of the states must be a Jewish state, the fact that the Palestinian state must be demilitarized.”

Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman thanked Canada for taking a “brave stand” at the conference, his spokesman said in a statement.

It added that Lieberman had thanked his counterpart, John Bird, for Canada’s understanding that “the 67 lines do not fit in with Israel’s security requirements and the current demographic situation,” a reference to Jewish settlements Israel has built in the occupied West Bank.

The G8 communique said: “Negotiations are the only way toward a comprehensive and lasting resolution to the conflict.”

It added: “The framework for these negotiations is well known ... We express our strong support for the vision of Israeli-Palestinian peace outlined by President Obama.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says Israel would be indefensible if it returned entirely to the borders that existed before 1967.

Canada’s strong backing for Israel was cited by diplomats last year as one reason why Ottawa failed to win a rotating two-year seat on the United Nations Security Council.

In the wake of the vote, Harper said: “When Israel, the only country in the world whose very existence is under attack, is consistently and conspicuously singled out for condemnation, I believe we are morally obligated to take a stand.”

Reporting by Luke Baker, David Ljunggren and Yoko Kubota; Editing by Jon Boyle and Mark Trevelyan