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‘World won’t accept Israel steamrolling Palestinians’

Riyad al-Malaki, Foreign Minister of the Palestinian National Authority, speaks to Ivan Camilleri about his hopes for a Palestinian-Israeli peace deal and how he values Malta’s continued support for the Palestinian cause.

The Middle East peace process has been on the international agenda for decades but little progress has been made, despite the efforts of the large powers, particularly the US, and Israel continues to build new settlements in the occupied territories.

The international community and the US must do more to make sure that Israel sticks to its commitments and obligations

However, Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyad al-Malaki believes the situation is changing rapidly as more pressure is being exerted on the Israelis to come to terms with the Palestinians.

“Although the current conditions for a possible peace deal may not be ripe, the situation on the ground is much different than five years ago,” Mr al-Malaki says.

“Many countries are expecting change and are no longer prepared to accept Israel steamrolling the Palestinian people.

“Last year’s vote at the United Nations, which admitted us as observers, was a clear move in this direction.”

Mr al-Malaki believes “Israeli intransigence and total disregard of international law” remain the biggest stumbling blocks towards a solution.

“They are defying the international community. They keep building new settlements against the Geneva Convention and they completely disregard what the United Nations say.

“We have played our part and we are still prepared to do more in order to come to some sort of agreement.

“But the international community and the US must do more to make sure that Israel sticks to its commitments and obligations. We are ready to compromise but it seems that this goodwill is not coming from all sides.”

The latest efforts to unblock the situation between the two sides are spearheaded by US Secretary of State John Kerry.

Only last Friday he conducted back-to-back talks with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem and Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas in Amman, Jordan.

The two sides have not met for the past three years following Israel’s refusal to freeze the building of new settlements.

Despite the slow progress and stalemate, Mr al-Malaki is still optimistic that a solution is possible in a few years’ time.

“There is unanimity in all the corners of the world that this cannot go on forever and that a solution to the conflict can be found.

“Where there is a will there is a way and we hope that the latest efforts of the US will be successful. I am sure that a solution will be found in my lifetime,” he says.

“And by the way, that also means that I still consider myself young,” the 58-year old Foreign Minister adds jokingly.

For the Palestinians, Malta has always been a good friend.

Since the days of George Borg Olivier and Dom Mintoff, the island’s governments have stressed the need for a peaceful solution to the Middle East conflict.

Malta also nurtured close ties with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and Mahmoud Abbas – his successor.

Recently the island reaffirmed its support of the Palestinian cause with the opening of a representation office in Ramallah, while maintaining good relations with Israel.

This ‘special relationship’ is deeply appreciated by Palestinians who look at Malta as ‘a true friend’.

Mr al-Malaki, says his people will always be indebted to the Maltese.

“Malta stood for our cause through thick and thin. The island’s various foreign ministers were always close to us and did everything possible to support us.

Malta’s position is based on strong principles, not on sympathy

“Within the EU Malta supports us. The island has credibility in the international political circuit and when it speaks out on our cause everyone is very attentive. We appreciate this and we want to continue to have this strong relationship,” he says.

Malta’s position on the Palestinian cause has sometimes been criticised, mostly by Israel, and a few years ago the Israeli Ambassador to Malta complained about the island’s ‘bias’.

However, according to the Palestinian Foreign Minister, support of this nature is only natural.

“It is not true that Malta is biased in our favour,” he says. “It sides with what is just and fair. In this case it happens to be Palestine. The island has a principled position that doesn’t sway according to its interests.

“It strongly defends its position no matter in which forum it is sitting. It’s a position based on strong principles and not on sympathy.”

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