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Malta keeps cards to chest on Palestinian bid

Mahmoud Abbas addressing a news conference with Prime Minister Lawrence Gonzi during his visit to Malta in 2008. Photo: Darrin Zammit Lupi

Mahmoud Abbas addressing a news conference with Prime Minister Lawrence Gonzi during his visit to Malta in 2008. Photo: Darrin Zammit Lupi

Days from Palestine’s bid to become a full United Nations member, the Maltese government remains reluc­tant to discuss its voting intentions, in the hope of a common EU posi­tion emerging over the next few days.

Malta’s historic, constant support of Palestine goes back decades

“The matter is being discussed within the EU and all member states are trying to reach a common position,” a Foreign Affairs Ministry spokesman told The Sunday Times.

He said there was an agreement that no member state will announce its position given a consensus within the EU was still possible.

But Palestinian Ambassador to Malta Jubran Taweel sounded optimistic the smallest EU state will give its green light, confirming he had been in contact with various Maltese officials, including Foreign Minister Tonio Borg, over recent weeks.

Mr Taweel stopped short of confirming that he expected Malta to vote in Palestine’s favour, instead saying: “We are hopeful that the Maltese government will vote in favour of Palestine’s resolution, in favour of peace.”

He added: “Malta’s historic, constant support of Palestine goes back decades.”

His meetings with the Maltese government were “not really lobbying”, he said, since he appreciated the sympathy the Maltese exhibited towards the Palestinian cause.

“I feel that the Maltese people are very much in favour of such a decision (in favour of Palestine’s UN membership),” he continued.

Labour foreign affairs spokesman George Vella expressed a measure of understanding for the government’s reluctance to discuss its position, although given the history of Maltese-Palestinian relations, the government “should stand up and openly declare its intentions” he said.

“It’s no secret that Malta has always been sympathetic to the Palestinian cause,” Dr Vella said.

“Being declaredly in favour of this resolution does not mean ignoring or being anti-Israel.”

Talk of a Palestinian bid to seek state recognition at the UN has been brewing for several months. Last Friday, Palestinian Authority President and chair of the Palestinian Liberation Organi­sation Mahmoud Abbas confir­med that Palestine would be submitting a formal proposal for state recog­nition to the UN. It is anticipated that the bid will be based on the contested 1967 borders, with East Jerusalem as the capital.

Although the Palestinian bid is expected to garner a comfortable majority within the UN General Assembly, it is likely to come unstuck when presented to the UN Security Council. China and Russia have both said they will be voting in favour of the Palestinian motion, but the US has already announced it intends to wield its veto and scupper the bid.

EU member states have been scrambling to reach a common position over the past weeks. The larger member states are especially divided. Germany and Italy have indicated they are against the Palestinian position, while Spain, breaking an EU pact to keep silent on the issue, has announced it will back the bid. France is believed to be leaning in favour of the bid, while the UK, which must balance its Middle Eastern interests against its loyalty to the US, continues to waver.

Despite this uncertainty, the ministry spokesman was cautiously optimistic about member states agreeing.

“The chances of a common position emerging have improved. Last week’s meetings indicate that there is a chance of an agreement on the issue. Things will be clearer in a couple of days’ time, once further discussions have taken place,” the spokesman said.

Dr Vella, on the other hand, felt that a common EU position was unlikely. He said EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs Catherine Ashton “is faced with dissent among EU member states. At this stage it will probably be every man to himself.”

Dr Borg is due to leave for New York tomorrow, where he will represent Malta at the UN General Assembly’s 66th annual session. Dr Vella will also be attending, as part of a Parliamentary Assembly of the Mediterranean delegation.

Moviment Graffitti will be holding a vigil in solidarity with the Palestinian people in front of the US Embassy in Ta’ Qali on Thursday at 7 p.m.

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