Peace vs power: the PN’s foreign policy gap

“When my husband was under siege in Ramallah and everybody was afraid to talk to him, Guido de Marco had the courage to call him every day. He was a loyal man when there was no loyalty at all.” Suha Arafat

The foreign policy divisions within the Nationalist Party (PN) were brought distinctly to light in recent weeks. On the one hand, there is Roberta Metsola who is intent on pushing forward her career within the European People’s Party (EPP) and is pushing a federalist defence agenda. Metsola, from the very beginning of her appointment as President of the European Parliament, has sought to place herself as an advocate of military intervention. However, this position is not shared by all and sundry within the Nationalist Party, to which she belongs.

There has always been a strong component of the PN that, inspired by Catholic thinking, is quite averse to military intervention. It is this wing of the party that supported the deal made in the 1980s with the Labour administration to include neutrality in our nation’s constitution. The same wing of the PN has tended to support efforts by the Palestinian people to establish their own state.

To this wing, the ill-thought intervention of Roberta Metsola in the Gaza crisis was a veritable shock. One must remember that major figures of the PN have been resolute supporters of the Palestinian cause. To quote Mrs Suha Arafat, the widow of former Palestinian President Yasser Arafat: “When my husband was under siege in Ramallah and everybody was afraid to talk to him, Guido de Marco had the courage to call him every day. He was a loyal man when there was no loyalty at all.”

This family history explains the very strongly worded intervention of Guido de Marco’s son in favour of an immediate cessation of hostilities in Gaza and a stop to the liberty of action that is being afforded to Benjamin Netanyahu. Mario de Marco was quite clear in his condemnation of Netanyahu’s actions, stating that “Benjamin Netanyahu is the classic example of a wrong man at the worst time”.

Following closely a PN press statement to support Metsola’s latest foreign policy foray, the advocating of a stronger EU defence budget, de Marco’s article was a clear signal that the party should be more cautious in its foreign policy discussions. That said, the Opposition’s shadow minister on foreign affairs, Beppe Fenech Adami, has not minced his words about the situation in Gaza. As early as last November he said in Parliament that there should be a ceasefire and that Israel should not adopt a policy of an eye for an eye as that would solve nothing. Fenech Adami very early on condemned the Israeli response. Metsola’s position, by contrast, remained equivocal, until there was a resolution passed in the EU Parliament calling for a ceasefire, even though this was conditional on Hamas being dismantled.

The positions of Metsola on foreign policy matters do not appear to be in line with those of the Maltese public. In fact, only in Austria is there less support than in Malta for a common defence and security policy among EU Member States. Moreover, recent Eurobarometer surveys show that, while support for this is growing in certain countries, here in Malta it is steadily declining.          

This could prove to be another battleground within the PN between a faction that sees the EU as a solution to everything and another more pragmatic faction that values maintaining Malta’s carefully constructed foreign policy stance since Independence. What is sure is that foreign policy for a small country like Malta is a very delicate matter and should not be driven by personal grandeur considerations.

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