Palestine’s Ambassador to Malta believes this is “the best time” for Malta to formally recognise a Palestinian state, while the United States has dismissed claims it was putting pressure on the island on the issue.

“We truly believe it is the best time and the perfect circumstances to make a positive impact on Israel to withdraw from the occupied Palestinian lands to establish a Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital,” Ambassador Fadi Hanania told Times of Malta.

He was reacting to a Times of Malta story last week reporting that Malta stopped short of officially recognising Palestinian statehood after coming under intense pressure from the US and Israel.

But the US has insisted it is not interfering in the process.

The controversy stems from a declaration by Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez last March that Malta would be joining Spain in working towards Palestinian state recognition.

Spain, Ireland and Norway announced last month that they were formally recognising Palestine, but Malta remained conspicuously silent.

Senior diplomatic sources said top US and Israeli officials leaned heavily on Malta to distance itself from that group of countries, but the Maltese government strongly denied the claim.

Ambassador Hanania would not comment on the allegations but stressed that Malta and Palestine already have “a long history of mutual cooperation and collaboration”.

“Malta’s commitment is further highlighted by the presence of the Palestinian embassy in Malta. Under the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, only sovereign states can establish embassies,” Hanania said.

“Palestinian ambassadors are accredited to the president of the republic who recognises them as ambassadors of the state of Palestine, and all official correspondents with the official Maltese entities are addressed to the ambassador of the state of Palestine since 1988.”

Malta and Palestine already have a long history of mutual cooperation and collaboration

In 1988, Malta had sent the United Nations a letter in which it said it welcomed a Palestinian declaration of independence and said that declaration was “a true and genuine expression of the right of the Palestinian people to a state of their own”.

Since then, Malta and Palestine have exchanged ambassadors and Palestine includes Malta in a list of countries it says formally recognise it.

In 2012 Malta  voted in favour of a UN resolution which recognised Palestine as a non-member observer and last April at the UN Security Council it voted in favour of full UN membership for Palestine.

Malta has also emphasised the need for a permanent ceasefire in Gaza and Ambassador Hanania thanked the government for welcoming wounded children from Gaza for medical treatment in Malta.

He also called on the government to take the step to formally recognise the Palestinian state, saying he has no doubts about Robert Abela’s commitment to justice and to the announcement of last March.

Malta played a major moderating role between Europe, the Arab world and Africa, he said, and showed it can keep security and stability, and through “wise leadership has managed to keep its own sovereign decision without being pressured by any other state but aligning with their neutrality approach advocating for justice, the rule of law and humanity”.

US denies dictating

But in a reply to questions, the US Embassy in Malta denied pressuring Malta.

The US and Malta engage in discussions to advance peace in the Mediterranean region and the US respects “Malta’s sovereignty, constitutional neutrality, and its commitment to peace”, it said.

“Malta’s position on the Norway-led declaration and recognition of a Palestinian state is a decision for Malta alone to make,” a US Embassy spokesperson said.

“No other country, including the US, can or should dictate Malta’s position on the matter.”

Foreign Minister Ian Borg with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken at the State Department in Washington, DC, on April 16. Photo: Saul Loeb/AFPForeign Minister Ian Borg with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken at the State Department in Washington, DC, on April 16. Photo: Saul Loeb/AFP

The US said it also wants a secure, free, democratic and stable Palestinian society and governance, and it supports the two-state solution, but the Palestinian state should be realised through direct negotiations between parties, not through unilateral recognition.

The spokesperson added: “However, we are now focused on the most urgent issues at hand given the dire humanitarian situation on the ground – negotiating an enduring ceasefire and durable end to the war that ensures that all hostages return to their homes and families, alleviates the humanitarian crisis, ensures Israel’s security, creates a better “day after” in Gaza without Hamas in power, and sets the stage for a political settlement that provides a better future for Israelis and Palestinians alike.”

What about the grey list?

Last week diplomats told Times of Malta the situation surrounding Palestinian recognition has put Malta’s relationship with the US into sharp relief, and they trace that shift in dynamics to Malta’s relegation to the FATF grey list of countries requiring enhanced monitoring of anti-money laundering measures.

While the FATF is an independent multilateral entity, government sources privately acknowledge that the US – along with the UK and Germany – played a key role in that decision.

Malta was taken off the grey list in mid-2022, and that decision was also made with Washington’s blessing.

But the US Embassy said, “the Palestinian issue and FATF are two completely unrelated matters and should not be conflated”.

“Malta’s high-level political commitment to working with FATF to accomplish the goals of its action plan led to the country being removed from the grey list in record time,” the US embassy spokesperson said.

“We continue to work with our Maltese partners to strengthen its anti-money laundering and counterterrorist financing regimes to sustain its progress.”

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