The Palestinian Authority is fuming after Canada’s Foreign Minister, John Baird, met Israel’s Justice Minister Tzipi Livni in her eastern Jerusalem office this week.
Such a move is normally avoided by visiting diplomats since world countries do not recognize Israel’s sovereignty over eastern Jerusalem, which it liberated during the 1967 Six Day War.
"The visit is a slap in the face to the Palestinian people," former Palestinian Authority foreign minister Nabil Shaath wrote in a commentary published by Canada's daily Globe and Mail on Friday.
Shaath, a Fatah Central Committee member in charge of international relations, called Baird's visit an "unprecedented recognition of the illegal Israeli annexation of Palestinians' occupied capital," adding that it undermines U.S. efforts to restart negotiations between Israel and the PA.
Shaath said the "unprecedented offense" would cause "severe" damage to Canada's relations with the PA, the Arab world and those committed to a two-state solution to the decades-old conflict.
Canadian foreign ministry spokesman Rick Roth told AFP on Thursday that Baird "wanted to get Livni's view on the Middle East peace process, given her new responsibilities and important role in the new cabinet."
In addition to being appointed Justice Minister, Livni has been placed in charge of the peace negotiations with the PA.
"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 told AFP.
Israeli foreign ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor told AFP that "It is not common that foreign officials meet Israeli officials in east Jerusalem.”
"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 added, 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.
Baird, meanwhile, was unfazed by the criticism, saying that where he has coffee with someone is “irrelevant” to the larger discussion of Middle East peace and does not signal a shift in Canadian foreign policy.
“I’m just not interested in getting into the semantic argument about whether you have a meeting with one person on one side of the street [and] it’s OK, and you have a meeting on the other side of street and it’s not,” he said during a news conference in London, according to the Canadian Press.
“We’re focused on trying to have an impact on the difficult and serious challenges, that being security for Israelis, an end to the conflict and the legitimate aspirations for a state from those in the Palestinian side,” added Baird.
(Arutz Sheva’s North American Desk is keeping you updated until the start of Shabbat in New York. The time posted automatically on all Arutz Sheva articles, however, is Israeli time.)