Government tensions over Israeli UN bid

Foreign affairs ministry and OPM at odds over Israel's bid for a seat on the United Nations Security Council

Foreign affairs minister George Vella, a long-time champion of the Palestinian cause, is at odds with PM Joseph Muscat about Israel's bid for a seat on the UN Security Coucil.
Foreign affairs minister George Vella, a long-time champion of the Palestinian cause, is at odds with PM Joseph Muscat about Israel's bid for a seat on the UN Security Coucil.

A recent visit by a delegation of Israeli MPs and a vague indication of Maltese support for Israel’s bid to win a seat for the first time ever on the United Nations Security Council has exposed tensions between diverging camps within the government.

Foreign affairs minister George Vella, a long-time champion of the Palestinian cause, is thought to be opposed to any move to support Israel’s bid.

However, it seems as though Prime Minister Joseph Muscat and other members of the government have no qualms in supporting that bid, especially after recent developments in Malta’s relationship with Israel, which culminated in Muscat’s visit to Israel late last year.

Backing Israel would not only be problematic because two other European countries are also contesting the 2018 Security Council election but given Israel’s continued defiance of UN resolutions over its illegal occupation of Palestinian land, support for Israel would be controversial to say the least.

Since 1972 the US has used its veto power at the UN Security Council 39 times to protect Israel from censure and despite strong condemnations from across the world, Israel to this day persists with its illegal occupation and apartheid policies.

Following a meeting between the Israeli delegation and civil liberties minister Helena Dalli, in which Dalli indicated that Malta would back Israel’s bid, MaltaToday sent a number of questions to the foreign affairs ministry.

Informed sources have told MaltaToday that the foreign ministry felt uneasy about the situation and an ensuing confrontation arose between the ministry and the Office of the Prime Minister.

Israeli MPs in Malta

Members of the Knesset, the Israeli parliament, paid a courtesy visit to a number of ministers between 17 and 19 June, including Minister George Vella, Minister Helena Dalli, and Tourism Minister Edward Zammit Lewis.

The links between the Maltese and the Israelis, the outcome of the Prime Minister’s visit to Israel last October, co-operation at various levels and the recent kidnapping of three Israeli youths were among the issues raised at these meetings.

The Israeli delegation consisted of the chairperson of the Israel-Malta Parliamentary Friendship Group, Orly Levi-Abekasis, Yakov Margi, Shimon Ohayon and Maya Cohen-Rahamim.

During the meeting with Helena Dalli, the minister noted that Malta would be backing Israel’s candidature to sit on the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW).

Peculiarly, Dalli also noted that both Israel and Malta would be contesting a seat on the UN Security Council, in 2018 and 2022 respectively, and according to a government statement, the minister augured that both countries would be successful in their bids “to contribute towards the objectives of the Security Council, especially on Mediterranean issues.”

Asked to confirm whether Malta was backing Israel’s bid, foreign minister George Vella told MaltaToday “positions taken by governments regarding voting in candidatures are considered as confidential bilateral arrangements involving the relationship existing between States, and are normally not public knowledge.”

The minister did not confirm whether Malta has struck an agreement with Israel to obtain its reciprocal backing for Malta’s bid to sit on the council in 2022 or whether Malta would be backing Germany, which will also be vying for a seat.

Israel vs Germany

Last year, Israel issued a formal complaint against Germany for intending to block it from sitting on the UN Security Council in 2018.

Israel has never held a position on the council, and the Jewish state argues that since countries such as Syria and Iran have sat on the council in the past, so should it.

The UN Security Council is made up of five permanent seats held by the US, the UK, Russia, France and China, and a further 10 rotating members, elected by the General Assembly for two-year terms and chosen from regional groups.

Up to 2000 Israel was included in the Asia and Pacific region, however due to pressures by the Arab League, Israel was removed and placed in the ‘Western European and others’ group.

For years Israel tried to win a seat on the council and although it seemed that this would happen in 2018, Germany decided to vie for the seat and it is likely that the European powerhouse will come out on top in the election.

In May last year, the Israeli foreign ministry said that Israel and Germany had an agreement in which Germany said it would not run, but the agreement was now being breached.

Unlike Israel, Malta had served on the council for two years between 1983 and 1984.

Currently the 10 temporary members that hold a seat are Argentina, Australia, Chad, Chile, Jordan, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Nigeria, Republic of Korea and Rwanda.

To be approved on the council, a candidate country must receive at least two-thirds of the votes cast for that seat, which can result in deadlock if there are two roughly evenly matched candidates.

The 2018 UN Security Council election will be held in October 2018 and five countries will be approved, with a country each from Africa, Asia-Pacific and Latin America and the Caribbean and two representing the Western European and others group.

Belgium will be contesting the election for the Western European group alongside Germany and Israel.