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Elizabeth Payne: A made-in-Canada plan for Old Jerusalem

There is a glimmer of hope that the Middle East peace process might not be completely dead. Not only has U.S.

There is a glimmer of hope that the Middle East peace process might not be completely dead.

Not only has U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry been trying to promote renewed talks between Israel and the Palestinians, but Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird recently met both Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who reportedly asked Baird to consider what role Canada might play.

Canada should try to play a constructive role in promoting Middle East peace. To do that, Baird has a ready-made project to champion, should he be looking for one. Canada — indirectly — is already involved in the Jerusalem Old City Initiative, a project that could one day become part of a Middle East solution.

The proposal, led by retired Canadian diplomats, to create a “special regime” to administer the Old City of Jerusalem — along the lines of Vatican City, for example — is an obvious initiative for Canada to take up. If the concept comes to fruition, there is a potential role for Canada to provide the security force within the Old City.

Mike Molloy, one of the co-directors of the Jerusalem Old City Initiative, says those behind it always thought of Canada as a likely source for part of the security force.

The Jerusalem Old City Initiative has been in the works at the University of Windsor for about eight years, with contributions from Israelis, Palestinians and Americans.

You probably haven’t heard much about it from the Conservative government, which, like Liberal governments before it, provided funding to support the research, totalling about $2 million.

The project’s directors say that is as it should be. It is the kind of research that could only be done at an unofficial level with the hopes of some day becoming part of a real solution.

A Canadian-led project, funded by the Canadian International Development Agency and the International Development Research Centre, is due to be published in book form in the fall. It has received a positive response from Americans — at the highest level of the Obama administration — as well as from some Israelis and Palestinians. It could one day become a key part of a Middle East peace deal.

And if it does, Molloy, who is Canada’s former ambassador to Jordan, former chairman of the Refugee Working Group on Palestinian Refugees and a senior fellow at the University of Ottawa, says Canada would have a connection.

For now, the Jerusalem Old City Initiative is merely one more piece of the puzzle. It calls for a “special regime” to oversee the 0.9-square-kilometre district that makes up the Old City of Jerusalem, once a peace treaty is in place. It’s described as a creative option “for the governance and management of the Old City of Jerusalem in preparation for a negotiated settlement between Israelis and Palestinians.”

The initiative, details of which are contained in a report, proposes a special joint Israeli-Palestinian regime to oversee the walled area of the Old City. The report spells out governance and security arrangements, the result of what its authors call fresh thinking on the issue.

Molloy and Canada’s former ambassador to Israel, Michael Bell, said they wanted to work on something “that is a bit outside the box” in the hopes it might create momentum to move the peace process forward.

According to the initiative proposal, a “special regime” could oversee the district after the adoption of a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It would be managed by a joint body of Israeli and Palestinian officials and be headed by a third-party commissioner appointed by the two countries. It would have a special police force consisting of internationals, Israelis and Palestinians.

Co-director Bell wonders whether the plan’s moment has passed, at least for the time being.

Or maybe the recent events mean new life will be breathed into the peace process. If so, Canada could be the source of a new way of looking at an old problem.