Saudi Arabia has cancelled a meeting of the Saudi-Canadian Common Committee due to the visit of Canada’s Foreign Minister to Israel. John Baird met Israel’s Justice Minister Tzipi Livni in her office located in occupied East Jerusalem in the middle of April. Baird said at the time that he knew that his visit to Jerusalem would be sensitive, but he wanted “to set a precedent”. Saudi Commerce and Industry Minister Tawfiq al-Rabeea announced the re-launch of the common committee in October last year.
A report in the London based newspaper Al-Hayat claimed that the Saudi Arabian government took this decision because of Canada’s positions on Arab issues, notably Palestine. The Saudis also said that they have protested to Canada about its support for Israel and Ottawa’s vote against Palestine at the UN last year.
EU officials are cautious about visiting East Jerusalem; Baird not only went there but also visited an Israeli military base in the occupied Syrian Golan Heights. During his visit, Baird stressed the “strong alliance between Canada and Israel.”
The common committee link between Ottawa and Riyadh is based on investing in relationships and mutual visits for officials and delegations aimed at developing economic, commercial and scientific cooperation. About 16,000 Saudi students are studying in Canada as part of a scholarship programme supported by Saudi King Abdullah. Indeed, Saudi Arabia is considered to be the most important commercial partner for Canada in the Middle East. According to statistics released in 2011, Canadian exports to Saudi Arabia were valued at around $3.6 billion; Saudi exports the other way were worth $60 million in July 2012.