[WATCH] Getting things done in the United Nations

After the Security Council’s approval of a resolution proposed by Malta calling for ‘humanitarian pauses’ in the war in Gaza, Foreign Minister Ian Borg sits down with JAMES DEBONO to talk about the diplomatic efforts to protect civilians trapped in the war

Two days after the UN Security Council approved a resolution calling for humanitarian pauses and respect of international law, Foreign Minister Ian Borg frankly admits the wording is not “perfect”. 

But he insists it reflects intense negotiations to find an agreeable text to avoid the fate of four previous failed resolutions which were shot down because of a lack of consensus. 

Noting that the previous four attempts by other nations, some of which enjoyed majority support, were either aborted or vetoed, Borg explains that the main difficulty was that of getting consensus on the wording.   

“You can have countries which agree with some parts of a resolution but not with others. Getting all the countries including those with a veto to agree on the wording is not easy,” he says in an interview at his temporary office at Palazzo Spinola in St Julian’s. 

But Borg also attributes the passing of the resolution to its timing, since it also reflects greater public awareness of what is happening in Gaza. “Things started changing when people all over the world started seeing what is actually happening on the ground in Gaza.” 

While admitting that so far, the passing of the resolution, which falls short of calling for a ceasefire as demanded earlier by the UN General Assembly, has offered no respite for the people of Gaza, he is hopeful that it is a first step in ensuring respect for international law. 

Yet he remains non-committal on the imposition of sanctions on Israel if it persists in ignoring the legally binding resolution and shoots down a call endorsed by President Emeritus Marie-Louise Coleiro Preca for Malta to recall its ambassador in Israel.  

Watch the full interview on MaltaToday’s portal, Facebook and Spotify. 

Following the resolution nothing has really changed on the ground for the thousands of Palestinians who live under constant bombardment, who do not have proper  access to water, food, health care and where even hospitals   running short of fuel. So, what exactly have we accomplished? 

A full month and a half after this war started... we have an approved a resolution which is now effectively international law, and all parties are obliged to respect it… What is important is that the international community puts pressure… to ensure the resolution is respected. 

But Israel has already made it clear that it will not abide by the resolution. I ask you the same question made by the UN representative of the Palestinian Authority Riyad Mansour:  “So, what are you going to do about it?” 

Well what Israel is saying is that the resolution was not needed because they are already respecting international law… and the whole emphasis of the resolution is on respecting international law. If they don’t [respect the resolution] it would be a matter of grave concern. One should distinguish between Hamas and the Palestinian Authority… But I am sure that the Palestinian people appreciate that there is now a framework of international law to protect civilians. 

But if Israel does not abide by it, would you support sanctions or not?  

If such a proposal is put on the table, we would consider it with an open mind and take a decision at the appropriate moment... 

One of the contentious aspects of the resolution tabled by Malta is that it fails to ask for a blanket ceasefire... Even Prime Minister Robert Abela recently made a clear distinction between a ceasefire and humanitarian pauses, expressing a clear preference for the former. Yet instead, the resolution speaks of humanitarian pauses not even of one general pause to the fighting. Did this dilute the resolution?    

There is the argument that if you use the word ceasefire it would mean that Israel does not have the right to defend itself from a terrorist organisation. You have a situation where some countries are insisting on a ceasefire because the Palestinians cannot endure more bombardments while others like Israel think that this would leave them defenceless in the face of atrocities like that committed on 7 October… All previous bids to get a resolution passed failed because these were perceived to be biased in favour of one of the two contrasting arguments. We were faced with a blocked situation in a council where its five permanent members can exercise a veto... Our resolution is not perfect. But had we not negotiated, through continuous phone calls and contacts, to get an agreement on the wording we would not have even managed to get this resolution approved. Malta has contributed to give some credibility back to the system. But we are also making it clear that this is just the first step… 

Would you describe what is happening in Gaza as a genocide? 

In this case, pictures speak louder than any words.  We can argue about the choice of words we use. But the pictures of dead children, left helpless in hospitals that are unable to function, parents fleeing their homes… you can choose whatever word you like to describe this, but all this is clearly unacceptable. These people cannot be made to suffer because of the acts of a terrorist group… 

Former President Marie Louise Coleiro Preca was among 150 signatories of a letter calling on the government urging it to recall its ambassador in Tel Aviv in protest.  Why have you not taken this step? 

I understand and appreciate what she and the other signatories said…  My question is what would we have achieved in concrete terms had we implemented this recommendation?  Had we taken such a step would we have managed to get the consent of the US and the UK for the resolution and the support of countries like France?  ...our ambassador in Israel is regularly summoned by the Israeli foreign affairs ministry where she is able to convey Malta’s position clearly even if what she says is often not to their liking... If I recall the ambassador, I will get the applause of those making this call but what good will come out of it?