Canadian Foreign Minister John Baird met an Israeli minister in annexed Arab east Jerusalem this week, a spokesman said, breaking a widely observed diplomatic taboo.
Baird met Justice Minister Tzipi Livni at her office in east Jerusalem, Canadian foreign ministry spokesman Rick Roth said, in a move normally avoided by visiting diplomats over concerns it could be seen as legitimising Israel’s annexation of the city’s eastern sector.
Israel captured east Jerusalem during the 1967 Six Day War and later annexed it in a move never recognised by the international community.
Roth told AFP Baird “wanted to get Livni’s view on the Middle East peace process, given her new responsibilities and important role in the new cabinet”.
Livni was appointed justice minister and lead peace negotiator in Israel’s cabinet, which was sworn in last month.
“This doesn’t change our longstanding position that all final status issues must be negotiated between the two parties. As guests, we were pleased to meet our hosts where it was most convenient for them,” Roth added.
Israel considers all of Jerusalem its “eternal, indivisible” capital, but the Palestinians want the eastern sector as capital of their future state.
“It is not common that foreign officials meet Israeli officials in east Jerusalem,” said Israeli foreign ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor.
“The Canadians have been making a name for themselves by speaking out on the international scene in a way which is all too rare,” Palmor told AFP, saying they were demonstrating an unusual “courage and moral stance”.
“There should be nothing unusual about meeting Israel’s justice minister in east Jerusalem (where the ministry is based). What is strange is that this is the exception,” he said.
During his six-day tour of the region, Baird also visited troops in the Israeli-occupied sector of the Golan Heights, Syrian territory which Israel annexed in 1981 in another move never recognised by the international community.
A senior official at the foreign ministry told Haaretz newspaper the Canadian embassy had advised Baird against both the east Jerusalem meeting and the Golan visit.
Canada is one of Israel’s staunchest allies and was one of the few countries that opposed a successful Palestinian bid for upgraded status at the United Nations late last year.