Given the growing tendency to conflate Hamas, the group that governs the Gaza Strip, with the entire Palestinian population, the international community would be committing a serious faux pas if it fails to strengthen its engagement with and empower the Palestinian Authority (PA), the legitimate representative of the Palestinian people,” remarked Malta’s Representative to Palestine, Franklin Aquilina.
In a conversation with The Journal, Malta’s diplomat in Ramallah stresses that countries with diplomatic relations with Palestine must now work ever more closely with the PA, on both the bilateral and the multilateral levels, to ensure the Authority is in a position to assume a meaningful and effective role in determining the Palestinian people’s future on the infamous “day after” Israel’s war in Gaza comes to an end.
“The Palestinian Authority is the most important stakeholder in decisions that need to be taken regarding the future of all Palestinians, whether in the West Bank, in Jerusalem, or in the Gaza Strip,” Aquilina maintains. “It is with the PA that the international community has to work closely towards achieving peace in the region, underpinned by Israel and a Palestinian State co-existing side by side in peace and security.
Franklin Aquilina’s words echo those of Malta’s Minister for Foreign and European Affairs and Trade, Ian Borg, at a Foreign Affairs Coucil meeting in Brussels recently, when he stressed that a reinvigorated Palestinian Authority should take over the government of Gaza. Minister Borg emphasised the importance of acknowledging Israel’s legitimate security concerns while also stressing the need to break the current impasse. In this regard, Malta advocates for increased EU involvement with regional stakeholders to achieve a two-State solution.
Diplomacy in the midst of violence
Although the international media’s main focus is currently on the war and humanitarian crisis in Gaza under Israel’s incessant strikes in retaliation to the condemnable surprise attacks carried out by Hamas on Israeli soil on 7th October, it is not business as usual in the occupied East Jerusalem and West Bank either. Actually, it hasn’t been business as usual even before the 7th October, with hundreds of Palestinians being killed by Israeli forces and settlers throughout 2023. Since October, as airstrikes targeted Gaza, the Israeli military intensified its incursions into the occupied West Bank as well. This year alone has witnessed a quarter of all Palestinian fatalities in the past two decades.
Despite the escalating tensions, Malta’s Representative Office in Ramallah remains steadfast in its commitment to continuing its operations as usual, asserted Franklin Aquilina, commending his office’s staff for their unwavering dedication and resilience. The imposition of stricter restrictions and significant reductions in crossing-point operating hours by Israel have made it more challenging for the Representative to travel from his residence in East Jerusalem to the office in Ramallah, West Bank. Nevertheless, these new circumstances have not impeded his ability to fulfill his responsibilities.
Work on visa issuance has been significantly curtailed due to the sharp decline in Palestinian travel, a consequence of Israel’s tightening restrictions on their freedom of movement outside the occupied territories. Nevertheless, Malta’s Representative Office in Palestine remains actively engaged, busy collaborating closely with the Ministry’s head office in Valletta, Malta’s embassy in Tel Aviv, and the Permanent Representation to the United Nations in New York. Collaboration with the latter to advance Malta’s stance and initiatives concerning the situation in Gaza included the resolution tabled by Malta in mid-November to provide immediate hope to the families of hostages, especially the children hostages, and to the children of Gaza through ‘humanitarian pauses and corridors’. That resolution – the first UNSC resolution on Gaza that was not vetoed – was adopted by the United Nations Security Council’s with 12 votes in favour, three abstentions, and none against.
“Malta enjoys a high degree of esteem in Palestine, stemming from the longstanding friendship between the two peoples, our EU membership and, more recently, our non-permanent seat on the UN Security Council,” said Franklin Aquilina, adding that the country will not shy away from punching above its weight in a bid to help foster dialogue and reconciliation among the region’s stakeholders.
Malta and Palestine established formal diplomatic relations with the Palestine Liberation Organisation in 1973. In 1988, Palestine opened its embassy in Malta, followed by Malta’s establishment of a Representative Office in Ramallah in 2009. Since then, the two nations have forged a close partnership, collaborating in various sectors to foster mutual understanding and progress.