Photo: Palestinians hold a protest against the Apartheid Wall…
Canada’s first trade accord signed outside the western hemisphere was with Israel in 1997. International trade relations with Canada, the U.S. and the European Union are essential components to Israel’s economy, creating external markets for Israeli products to be sold, while embedding Israeli economic activity within the international market. Today, Palestinians are appealing for an international campaign of boycott, divestment and sanctions on Israel, in response to the ongoing occupation of Palestine defined by a military enforced apartheid facing the Palestinian people.
Throughout the Middle East a strong campaign against the normalization of economic and political relations with Israel remains. Kole Kilibarda is an organizer with the Coalition Against Israeli Apartheid in Toronto, which is campaigning against the Israel-Canada free trade agreement. Kilibarda explains the details of the Canada-Israel trade agreement, while offering a critique on Canada’s interest in maintaining a trade accord with Israel.
Stefan Christoff: Can you provide a break-down on your critique of the Canada-Israel Free Trade Agreement, which the Coalition Against Israeli Apartheid – the organization you work with – is currently campaigning against.
Kole Kilibarda: Canada-Israel Free Trade Agreement was initialed on January 1st, 1997, the first agreement that Canada signed with a trade partner outside the western hemisphere. Since 1997 the trade volume between Canada and Israel has been increasing.
Currently the bilateral trade volume stands at around one-billion dollars. Canada has tried to peruse additional free-trade agreements with other countries in the region, although today the Canada-Israel trade agreement is the central trade agreement in the region.
Also there is the Canadian-Palestinian Framework for Economic Cooperation and Trade that exists, although this is a dormant document and there is little bilateral trade with the Palestinian Authority. Since the Palestinian elections in 2005 economic relations have been basically frozen. A large disconnection exists between Canada’s trade relations with Israel and with the Palestinian Authority.
Importantly the Canada-Israel Free Trade Agreement aims to legitimize Israeli territorial control over all of historic Palestine. Within the body of the trade agreement, there is an implicit legitimization of Israel’s occupation through defining Israel as the territory where Israel’s custom laws are applied [which technically includes the West Bank and Gaza Strip given Israel is the occupying power]. Wording within the Canada-Israel trade agreement is very different from the European Union’s trade agreement with Israel which explicitly doesn’t include the territories that Israel occupies.
Canada’s trade agreement with Israel applies to the entire territory of historic Palestine, including the territories that Israel has occupied since 1967, the West Bank and Gaza, as Canada’s trade agreement is based on the areas that Israel maintains territorial control over, not on internationally recognized borders.
Also the Canada-Israel trade agreement includes a point which specifies that both trade partners must pursue their obligations under the United Nation’s Charter, which aims to maintain “international peace and security.” Between 2000 and 2005 Canada voted to censor Israeli behavior 115 times at the U.N., despite this fact the trade agreement continues. Essentially this means that the Canadian government is running counter to their own obligations under the agreement, which specifies that the trade agreement is contingent on respect for international law by both Canada and Israel. Basically Canada is condoning Israel’s multiple violations of international law.
Much of the agreement is also rooted in Canada’s economic relationship with the U.S., as one of the main points of the agreement is to liberalize trade with the U.S., as Israeli products transiting through the U.S. – with minor modifications done in the U.S. – would also be treated as Israeli products and fall under the terms of the Canada-Israel trade agreement. In certain cases this agreement is more liberal than NAFTA, in other cases it’s not, however it is an opening for Israeli-U.S. products to enter Canada.
Stefan Christoff: Can you discuss the Canada-Israel Free Trade Agreement within the context of Canada’s economic interests in the Middle East, as the government is currently pushing additional bilateral trade agreements in the region…
Kole Kilibarda: Canadian political interests in the Middle East have increased quite broadly in recent years, which directly relates to trade policy. The Canada-Israel trade agreement is now being utilized as a launching point for the Canadian government to peruse additional trade accords with pro-western authoritarian regimes in countries like Jordan and Egypt, countries which already have trade relations with Israel.
Israel is a strategically important trade partner in the region because it’s the only country in the area that has trade agreements with the E.U., the U.S. and Canada. So Israel is a starting point for regional penetration, in terms of trade policy.
Clearly Canada is also involved in contracting out military related work in Iraq and also deeply involved in Afghanistan, so cementing a strong regional alliance with Israel – essentially a settler outpost of western interests in the Middle East – is very important for Canada.
Stefan Christoff: Can you talk about other trade accords or development agreements between Israel and Canada?
Kole Kilibarda: In terms of direct defense-industrial ties, Canada and Israel have initialed an agreement called the Canada-Israel Industrial Research and Development Fund, a yearly fund that amounts to about three-million dollars a year, providing seed money to joint Israeli-Canadian projects.
Among projects funded by this agreement are a number of defense-industrial projects. For example this joint Canada-Israel program is funding the development of the Guardium – Autonomous Security Vehicle, which involves LAHAV, Israel Aerospace Industries.
This military vehicle is designed to patrol border fortifications, like the Israel’s Apartheid wall in Palestine, or the walls being currently constructed on the Mexico-U.S. border, built to neutralize “terrorist threats” according to the official description. Basically it’s a kill-vehicle that’s robotically operated to patrol the boundaries that militarized states such as Israel and the U.S. are trying to protect from resistance movements.
Development surrounding this particular military vehicle points to the type of collaboration that is happening, described as “mutually beneficial relations”, between Canada and Israel under the Canada-Israel free-trade agreement and the Canada-Israel Industrial Research and Development Fund.
Stefan Christoff: Could you expand on why the organization you are involved in, the Coalition against Israeli Apartheid, finds trade relations, or specifically the Canada-Israel Free Trade Agreement, an important point to organize around in Canada? Often the political message heard within the Palestine solidarity movement directly addresses Israel’s military occupation of Palestine however details on economic policies are seldom addressed. In this context could you explain why the Coalition against Israeli Apartheid has chosen to focus on trade relations between Canada-Israel?
Kole Kilibarda: The Coalition Against Israeli Apartheid sees this agreement as particularly threatening is because the agreement legitimizing Israeli occupation, while concretizing Israeli apartheid, while deepening the involvement of Canadian industry in the suppression of Palestinian human rights. Clearly this agreement is not acceptable in the context of the daily reality of Israeli apartheid; defined by military occupation and war crimes targeting the Palestinian people.
One of the first articles of the Canada-Israel trade agreement outlines the conditions of trade with Israel as applying to “the territory where its customs laws are applied,” due to Israel’s military occupation includes the Palestinian territories. This point is contrary to international law, it legitimizes Israel’s occupation and control over Palestine.
Also in addressing this particular agreement between Canada-Israel it’s essential to highlight and recognize that this agreement is part of a broader regional push from Canada, also from the U.S. to expand economic activity and investment in the Middle East, as best illustrated in the aggressive pursuit of trade partnerships or investment agreements throughout the Middle East with authoritarian regimes.
The Canada-Israel Free Trade Agreement is just the entry point to a broad range of province to state agreements, between Canadian provinces and Israel, including Ontario, Alberta, Manitoba and Quebec which all have agreements with the Israeli government, all which are important accords to organize against.
Additionally it must be noted that while bilateral trade between Canada and Israel is now at one-billion dollars annually, overall direct investment between the countries stands between three to four billion dollars. Clearly an expansion of the Israel-Canada trade agreement at a national level, also at a provincial level is being pushed.
This interview was originally produced by journalist Stefan Christoff for the Fighting FTAs project, an international project that provides a global picture on free trade agreements (FTAs), and insight into struggles being waged by social movements fighting back.