Canada's offer to take in Palestinian refugees as part of a Middle East peace deal has been embraced by Israel but flatly rejected by Palestinians, reported the Toronto Star newspaper.
Canada's Foreign Minister John Manley revealed Wednesday that Canada has offered to resettle Palestinian refugees in this country as part of a proposed Middle East peace plan.
He said there has been no detailed discussion on the number of refugees this would involve, but Canada wouldn't be the only country offering help, something the government hopes could aid in any potential peace agreement between Israel and Palestine, the minister told the paper
Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak's office applauded the Canadian government's bid to help solve the issue, said the paper.
"I think Canada has opened the door to resolving one of the toughest issues that relates to the Israeli and Palestinian conflict," Barak's top aide, Gilad Sher, said in an interview.
A Canadian immigration department official confirmed last week that "contingency plans are under way here" to resettle a significant number of Palestinian refugees, according to the paper.
"This is well in keeping with Canada's position as a compassionate citizen of the world," the official told the paper.
But top Palestinian peace negotiators interviewed by the paper were clearly upset by Canada's offer to resettle refugees.
They said that the offer undermines the Palestinian bid to win the right of refugees to return.
"Canada's policy is Canada's policy - it is not our policy. Our policy is the right of return," said speaker of the Palestinian Legislative Council, Ahmed Qorei.
According to the paper, Palestinian negotiators said they would refuse to even consider Canada's offer unless Israel first accepted the right of Palestinian refugees to return to homes in what is now the state of Israel.
"Have you heard of anywhere in the world where leaders of a people ask other countries to please accept their people? It will never happen," said Qorei.
About one-third of the refugees live in squalid, crowded camps in the West Bank, Gaza Strip, Lebanon, Syria and Jordan.
The Canadian foreign minister said he made the offer to resettle an undetermined number of Palestinian refugees during recent telephone conversations with Palestinian and Israeli officials.
He said Prime Minister Jean Chretein also brought up the matter during a Christmas Day telephone call to Palestinian President Yasser Arafat.
US President Bill Clinton has proposed to the Palestinians and Israelis a bundle of proposals, which include shared sovereignty over east Jerusalem, the refusal of the return of millions of Palestinian refugees to their homeland and the rehabilitation of these refugees in Jordan, Syria, Lebanon and other countries.
Clinton's proposals also included the establishment of an international fund that would finance the rehabilitation of these refugees -- Albawaba.com
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