Ian Borg: 'Israel, Palestine must abide by UN Security Council ceasefire resolutions'

MaltaToday's Nicole Meilak was at the UN in New York where she met with Foreign Minister Ian Borg as Malta presided over another tumultous week at the Security Council

Foreign Minister Ian Borg believes the most pressing priority is for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza, the release of hostages taken by Hamas, and delivery of more aid to the enclave
Foreign Minister Ian Borg believes the most pressing priority is for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza, the release of hostages taken by Hamas, and delivery of more aid to the enclave

Malta believes in Palestinian statehood and diplomatic relations have only just fallen short of full recognition for almost four decades. 

Last March, Malta joined three other like-minded EU countries – Spain, Ireland and Slovenia - in a more concerted effort to grant Palestine full recognition. 

However, an attempt to grant Palestine UN membership – it currently has observer status - was blocked last week by the US at the Security Council. Malta joined 11 other UNSC members to vote in favour, while the UK and Switzerland abstained, and the US used its veto to block the resolution. 

The US decision put a spanner in the works, but Malta’s Foreign Minister Ian Borg is coy when asked when Malta would recognise the State of Palestine. 

As I sit down with Borg for a brief exchange before the UN Security Council vote on the matter, he insists the government’s initial statement was clear enough. “When the respective countries feel that it’s the proper time,” he says. 

Borg adds that Malta, starting from what was decided 1988, did a lot for the Palestinian cause. “It was always clear on Palestine. I don’t see that Malta is not following through on what it said, but it will keep to its word that when it’s the proper time, and conditions are good to do this [it will follow through and recognise a Palestinian State].” 

Prompted further on when the time and conditions might allow for this, Borg replies that he has no answer to the question. 

“I don’t know myself. We’ve spent decades knowing what we want – two countries, two populations, living in peace without feeling threatened by each other, side-by-side with Jerusalem as the capital of both countries. We agreed that the borders would be those agreed to in 1967. But from the current situation, the political will… It looks as if we’re behind. You can see it for yourself when you see the two parties speaking in a debate like the one, we had [last week].” 

It's a candid admission of the enormous challenges to find a solution in the Middle East that eventually sees Israel and Palestine living side-by-side in peace. 

On whether there was any pressure on Malta to vote in a particular way, Borg says that influence is the nature of diplomacy. “You listen to both parties, or more than two parties, and then you make your decision.” 

Borg says the biggest priorities now should be an immediate and permanent ceasefire, humanitarian aid in Gaza, and the unconditional release of all hostages taken on 7 October. 

It is a tall order given that two UNSC resolutions have been ignored so far. 

Borgs says Israel and Palestine must abide by resolutions calling for a ceasefire and believes the Security Council needs to push for its decisions to be implemented in full.  

“We can’t have sceptical voices, even in the same Security Council at times, when international law is clear,” Borg says. “The two parties need to respect this, and it’s clear that the parties are not respecting what was passed in the council.” 

Throughout April, Malta is assuming the presidency of the Security Council for the second time in its two-year membership stint on the UN’s highest decision-making body. 

It’s a presidency that comes at a turbulent time in the Middle East, with the Gaza conflict still waging on and risks of a regional conflict increasing by the day. 

Malta drafted the initial resolution adopted by the Security Council late last year, calling for extended humanitarian pauses to the Gaza conflict. It later helped coordinate a second resolution demanding a Ramadan ceasefire that would lead to a “lasting sustainable ceasefire”. 

“I am proud that Malta at least did its part to propose or coordinate certain decisions in the council,” Borg says. “Have we reached the end? Given that they have not been implemented, I’d say no.”