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Secret documents shed new light on why Clark broke Jerusalem embassy promise

Secret documents shed new light on why Clark broke Jerusalem embassy promise
From CBC - December 7, 2017

Prime Minister Joe Clark's government backed down on its controversial 1979 promise to move Canada's Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem in part over fears of possible economic fallout, according to secret cabinet documents obtained by CBC News.

Behind closed doors, cabinet ministers like Finance Minister John Crosbie and Industry Minister Robert de Cotret were particularly concerned, warning that ministers should carefully consider the possible economic effects and how to mitigate them. Communications Minister David MacDonald advised his colleagues that a company was "very concerned about its contract in Saudi Arabia."

While the name of the company is blacked out in the documents, obtained by CBC News under the Access to Information Act, cabinet discussions a month later mention that Bell Canada had a contract in Saudi Arabia.

When Clark's government announced its decision on to shelve its promise, it downplayed any suggestion that fears of an economic backlash had played a role in its decision.

"The Prime Minister agreed with the view expressed by other Ministers that his statement should avoid reference to commercial considerations and should be confined to a brief but frank exposition of the government's policy on the location of the Embassy," say the minutes of a hastily called cabinet meeting on Oct. 29, 1979.

'Economics trumped politics'

Janice Stein of the Munk School of Global Affairs said the cabinet documents shed new light on the Clark government's decision.

"For the first time, documents confirm the preoccupation of the Conservative government with the consequences for the Bell Canada contract in Saudi Arabia, of its decision to move the Embassy to Jerusalem," said Stein.

"It appears that economics trumped politics."

The question of where Canada's Embassy in Israel should be located was again in the spotlight on Wednesday after U.S. President Donald Trump announced his government recognizes Jerusalem as Israel's capital and plans to move its embassy there from Tel Aviv. Canadian government officials have confirmed they have no plans to follow suit.

While Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu praised Trump's decision, it angered Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas who said the U.S. is withdrawing from the role it has played in the peace process.

Jerusalem, which is home to Jewish, Christian and Muslim holy sites, is hotly disputed territory for both Israelis and Palestiniansboth of which have staked claims.

It was also a hot button issue in 1979 when Conservative Leader Joe Clark made an election promise to move Canada's Embassy there.

The cabinet minutesprovide a unique glimpse at what happened behind the scenes as Clark came to power and had to grapple with the issue.

At a meeting of his inner cabinet on June 7, only three days after he was sworn in, the "Jerusalem question" was raised by MacDonald, who relayed concerns expressed by the company with the contract in Saudi Arabia.

Calming concerns

'Commercial considerations'

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