Why the time is not yet ripe

Ireland, Spain, and Norway will formally recognise a Palestinian state on Tuesday. Foreign Affairs Permanent Secretary Christopher Cutajar explains why Malta is hesitant to take such a step at this time.

Granting recognition to a Palestinian State before all the necessary conditions are met would be counterproductive, jeopardising Malta’s established position as a trusted interlocutor, a role that has demonstrably been a positive influence in the Middle East conflict for the past five decades.

This position was expressed by Christopher Cutajar, Permanent Secretary at the Ministry for Foreign and European Affairs and Trade, as Ireland, Spain, and Norway are all set to formally recognise a Palestinian state from tomorrow, Tuesday. He was exchanging views with The Journal editor Sandro Mangion on ‘Kafè Ewropa’, One Radio’s weekly European election talk show.

Christopher Cutajar, Permanent Secretary at the Ministry for Foreign and European Affairs and Trade, on Kafè Ewropa.

On the margins of the European Council last March, the Prime Ministers of Malta, Ireland, Slovenia, and Spain, issued a statement in which they declared they had discussed their countries’ “readiness to recognise Palestine” and said that they “would do so when it can make a positive contribution and the circumstances are right”. They also agreed that the only way to achieve lasting peace and stability in the Middle East is through implementation of a two-state solution, with Israeli and Palestinian States living side-by-side, in peace and security.

With tomorrow’s recognition, two of the signatories of that statement – Ireland and Spain – will make a fundamental paradigm shift as they believe the circumstances are now right and such a move can make a positive contribution. Malta and Slovenia beg to differ.

The Maltese Foreign Ministry’s top civil servant commented that, as long as the political decision to recognise a Palestinian State has not been taken, that means that the Maltese government still believes that the right conditions are not yet present and, consequently, recognition would not serve as a positive contribution at this stage.

While expressing respect towards the positions taken by Ireland and Spain, two European Union member states, and Norway, which is closely associated with the bloc through the European Economic Area (EEA) agreement, he  said that the wisest way forward would be for the European Union to reach a common position on how this issue can be resolved, with the formation of two states living side by side in peace and security as per pre-1967 borders.

Norway, Ireland, Spain will recognise a Palestinian state tomorrow, Tuesday.

Neutral and useful

Christopher Cutajar noted that it is a known fact appreciated by everyone that Malta has been showing support towards the Palestinian cause for a very long time.

It was in 1974 that the Maltese government, led by Prime Minister Dom Mintoff, invited the Palestinians to open an office in Malta. Following the change in Government in the mid-1980s, that legacy was carried forward through the influence of exponents such as Guido de Marco who was appointed as Foreign Minister in 1990. It was during that period that, in 1988, Malta’s Permanent Representative at the United Nations in New York, Alexander Borg Olivier, presented a letter to the organisation’s Secretary General in which the Maltese government affirmed its “recognition of the right of the Palestinian people to a state of their own”.

As from 2009, Malta has its own Representative Office in Ramallah, West Bank, currently headed by Franklin J. Aquilina. On its part, Malta offers the Palestinian delegation in Malta all diplomatic privileges and immunities to represent its people.

Malta’s Representative in Ramallah, Franklin J. Aquilina, welcoming the Governor of Salfit, Abdullah Kamil, for a meeting at the Maltese Representative Office last month.

The importance of Malta’s credibility as a trusted interlocutor couldn’t have been manifested better than it has over the past months, as Malta holds a non-permanent seat in the UN Security Council, the Permanent Secretary noted. Taking a leading role in peace efforts while holding the Presidency of the UN’s highest decision-making body, Malta spearheaded the formulation of a resolution last year urging extended humanitarian pauses in the war in Gaza. It further played a key role in coordinating a second resolution, demanding a ceasefire that would pave the way for a long-lasting end to the war.

Foreign Minister Ian Borg presides over a debate on the Middle East conflict at the UN Security Council during one of Malta’s terms as President.

When will circumstances be right?

What are the criteria that will help Malta decide whether the circumstances are right to recognise Palestine as a state?

Once again referring to joint statement issud in March by the four prime ministers, Christopher Cutajar said that Malta believes that certain important matters still need to be resolved for State recognition to be beneficial. In the short term, there is still the issue of the release of the Israelis being kept hostage by Hamas and the ongoing deadly fighting in the Gaza Strip, most of which has been reduced to rubble. Add to that the fact that the economy on the West Bank is on the point of collapsing. Furthermore, for a two state solution to be feasible, the notion has to be fully accepted by Israel, which would be expected to dismantle the illegal Israeli settlements that have been built on Palestinian land.

Malta is not alone in taking this position, the Permanent Secretary points out, mentioning Belgium, Luxembourg, and Slovenia as examples.

“The conditions need to be there for the reality of two functioning states, living side by side in peace and security, to materialise,” said Christopher Cutajar. “There must be trust between the two sides. Needless to say that is not the case at the moment.”

This is an issue that is very much at heart of the Maltese government and people, and as part of the international community we will continue working hard for a peaceful reolution of this conflict, he assured.

Photo: Reuters / Wikipedia Commons

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