Updated - Adds comments by the Foreign Ministry.

The Labour Party has criticised the prime minister for not having declared Malta's backing to the Palestinian bid for statehood during his address to the UN General Assembly on Saturday.

Party foreign affairs spokesman George Vella said it was not enough for Dr Gonzi to have called for a renewal of talks between Israel and the Palestinians. His failure to publicly declare support for the recognition of Palestinian statehood, made by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, showed lack of respect to the Palestinians.

Dr Gonzi had said that Malta backed EU policy and efforts, but what he had not said was that the EU did not have a common position on Palestinian statehood, Dr Vella said. Different states had different policies on this issue. Certainly, it was not enough to tell the Palestinians to return to talks, when talks had been bogged down and got nowhere.

Dr Vella said the impression he formed when he was present at the General Assembly, was that the Palestinians expected more clarity from Malta.

FOREIGN MINISTRY REACTION

In a reaction, the Foreign Ministry said that Dr Vella had glossed over over some key elements in the Prime Minister's speech.

"In addressing the situation in the Middle East, after devoting time to Libya and saluting the courage of the Libyan people, emphasis was made on the importance of fulfilling the long-sought aspirations of Palestinian people, an objective that is all the more compelling in light of the events in North Africa. The institutional readiness for the establishment of a Palestinian state was also underlined whilst referring to the EU statements which have unequivocally criticised the building of settlements by Israel which undermine the goal of a two-state solution," the ministry said.

"Malta has consistently given its clear backing to Palestine's rights. At the same time it also ought to be borne in mind that the interests of the Palestinians and of the region are best served by the working with partners, including within the EU and other key players, to ensure that these rights are fulfilled."

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