'As things stand Malta will not support Israel's UN bid' - George Vella

Foreign affairs minister George Vella says that as things stand, he would not back Israel’s bid to win seat on UN Security Council in 2018 

Foreign Affairs Minister George Vella on Reporter (Photo: Ray Attard)
Foreign Affairs Minister George Vella on Reporter (Photo: Ray Attard)

Foreign affairs minister George Vella has ended his silence on Malta’s controversial, perceived support for Israel’s bid to join the United Nations Security Council, saying that a month shy of the 2013 general elections, the then-PN government signed a note verbale whereby it agreed to support Israel’s bid in 2018.

Hosted on Reporter by presenter Saviour Balzan, the foreign affairs minister took umbrage at the Nationalist Party’s criticism, telling his
counterpart Carm Mifsud Bonnici that the party had been hindering the government’s work and that its agreement to support Israel four years ahead of the bid, was the “epitome of hypocrisy.”

“On 6 February 2013, then-foreign affairs minister Francis Zammit Dimech signed a noteverbale tying Malta to support Israel’s bid to win a seat on the United Nations Security Council,” Vella said.

The note verbale reflects a reciprocal agreement between Malta and Israel, where in exchange for Malta’s support for Israel’s bid, Israel would give Malta similar support for international postings.

As reported in MaltaToday on Sunday, if Malta does support Israel’s bid, ahead of other European candidates Germany and Belgium, analysts say that this could have severe consequences on Malta’s relationship with Arab countries. This concern was confirmed Vella, who explained that several Arab countries have approached him personally to express their anger at Malta’s support.

While taking the PN to task over its decision to sign an agreement at such an early stage, Vella was adamant that as things stand, he would not back Israel’s bid.

“In light of the atrocities occurring in Gaza, Israel should not be supported. I will not support Israel’s bid to join the UN Security Council,
but this government is constrained by the PN’s previous note verbale,” the foreign affairs minister said.

Defending the PN’s decision to sign the agreement, shadow foreign affairs minister Carm Mifsud Bonnici – who also appeared on Reporter – said that the agreement is justified “because at the time Israel was heading towards a peaceful agreement with Palestine.”

While admitting to not being aware of the note verbale in question, until Vella had informed him of it, Mifsud Bonnici underlined that if the PN were in government, it would neither support Israel’s bid nor would it sign the note verbale.

“Israel is now in a completely different scenario, and if the PN were in government, it would not sign the note verbale,” Mifsud Bonnici said.

Asked by Saviour Balzan what the PN would have done differently to tackle the unrest in Libya, Mifsud Bonnici argued that he would have opened the crisis centre earlier as Maltese people are experiencing problems to leave Libya.

Mifsud Bonnici’s comments were however retorted by George Vella who disproved Mifsud Bonnici’s calls for an immediate evacuation.

The foreign affairs minister had previously ruled out an evacuation, arguing “it is not on the cards for now.” Despite his reluctance to order an evacuation, Vella was adamant that the government – most notably the crisis centre set up specifically to tackle the situation in Libya – is in constant contact with the Maltese in Libya.

“Comparing the present situation in Libya with that of 2011 is totally different because presently, there is no transitory council, and back in 2011, the majority of the country had the same goal: that of ousting Gaddafi.”

“Now, there are only independent militias, subgroups and secularists. If you compare the two scenarios, then you do not what you are saying,” George Vella said in a dig at Mifsud Bonnici.

Asked about the situation of Martin Galea – the abducted Maltese man – Vella called for caution, labeling the situation as very precarious and sensitive.

On his part, Professor Stephen Calleya, the director for the Mediterranean Academy of Diplomatic Studies (MEDAC), argued that the instability in the Mediterranean would influence Malta and the rest of Europe.

 “The instability in the Mediterranean, including the situation in Libya, Syria and the Middle East, will inevitably have severe repercussions on the rest of Europe. This is a recipe for instability,” he said.

Speaking on the ever-changing situation amidst the unrest in Libya, Calleya said he is not surprised at the unrest.

“In 2011, there were revolutions, people wanted a change for the better and were united it their goal, but now there are factions and various groupings who all want different things. The situation is changing every day,” Vella argued.

He also played down the threat of Islamist extremism, insisting that the majority of Libyans do not champion extremist values.