Canadian Foreign Minister John Baird
Canadian Foreign Minister John BairdAFP photo

Egypt's foreign ministry summoned Canada's charge d'affaires in Cairo on Monday, over Foreign Minister John Baird's controversial visit to eastern Jerusalem to meet an Israeli minister last week.

According to a report in AFP, Egypt’s foreign ministry expressed its "astonishment" at Baird's visit and demanded "a clarification of the reasons for convening the meeting in the occupied capital of Palestine," it said in a statement.

Baird's meeting with Justice Minister Tzipi Livni last week could be seen as "partial recognition of Israel's illegal attempts to annex east Jerusalem and consider it part of Israel's capital," the statement added.

Baird met Livni, lead peace negotiator in Israel's cabinet, at her office in eastern Jerusalem last Tuesday. 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 Egyptian move comes one day after the Palestinian Authority summoned Canada's envoy, and Arab League Secretary General Nabil al-Arabi said he was "extremely shocked" by the eastern Jerusalem meeting.

Canada is one of Israel's staunchest allies and was one of the few countries that opposed a successful PA bid for upgraded status at the United Nations late last year. Before the vote, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper personally intervened to pressure Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas to drop his bid for upgraded status at the United Nations.

Former PA foreign minister Nabil Shaath on Friday lambasted the visit, writing in the Canadian daily The Globe and Mail that the visit was an "unprecedented recognition of the illegal Israeli annexation of Palestinians' occupied capital" and a "slap in the face to the Palestinian people."

Baird himself was unfazed by the criticism, saying on Friday 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.

“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.