Decision to back Israel’s UN bid taken by PN administration

Former foreign affairs minister Francis Zammit Dimech had sealed agreement to back Israel’s bid for a UN seat, due in 2018, however he does not remember who led negotiations

Foreign affairs minister George Vella revealed that the agreement to back Israel’s bid for UN seat was reached by PN government
Foreign affairs minister George Vella revealed that the agreement to back Israel’s bid for UN seat was reached by PN government

The controversial decision to back Israel’s bid for a seat on the UN Security Council in 2018 was taken by the PN administration, just a month before the 2013 elections.

Former foreign minister Francis Zammit Dimech confirmed the revelation made by his successor, George Vella on Saviour Balzan’s Reporter on TVM on Monday, explaining on the telephone that he had communicated the agreement through a note verbale – an official letter confirming an agreement – in February 2013.

In telephone comments to MaltaToday, Zammit Dimech however argued that the agreement was not binding, adding “the current government has every right to change the agreement according to the present circumstances.”

He argued that in 2013, circumstances in the Middle East were completely different and insisted that he couldn’t “predict” the current situation, in which over 1,200 Palestinians have been killed by the Israeli armed forces since an attack was launched on Gaza three weeks ago.

Zammit Dimech also noted that during his short tenure as foreign affairs minister at the end of the previous legislature, he was one of the first EU ministers to recognise Palestine’s non-Member Observer State status at the United Nations. 

However, in 2013 Gaza had been under a blockade for five years and was still undergoing reconstruction following the 2008 Gaza war when around 1,400 Palestinians, mostly civilians, were killed in a 22-day war.

The strip of land the size of Malta is home to 1.8 million Palestinians, and has been under a sea, land and air blockade for six years, with the United Nations under secretary general for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator describing it as “an open-air prison.”

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

The minister added that the communication clearly stated that Malta and Israel had reached a reciprocal agreement, on the eve of the March election, binding the new Labour government with an arrangement over a UN election set to be held in four years’ time.

Asked why Malta chose to reach such an agreement with Israel at such an early stage, Zammit Dimech explained that “countries lobby with each other over various postings on international organisations”.

Pressed to explain why Malta had decided to enter such an agreement when Israel would be facing competition from Germany and Belgium to win one of the two available UN seats for the European region, Zammit Dimech said he could not remember the minute details of the agreement or whether the deal was brokered by Malta’s EU ambassador, Richard Cachia Caruana or other persons.

He added that he could not remember whether he participated in direct negotiations or whether anyone else led the dealings.

While saying that the “homework” was done by his predecessor, Tonio Borg, Zammit Dimech said “I would need to have the note verbale at hand to reply to such questions.”

Backing Israel would be problematic not only because two other European countries are also contesting for the 2018 Security Council seat, but given Israel’s continued defiance of UN resolutions over its illegal occupation of Palestinian land, support for Israel would also not go down well in the Arab world.

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.

If Malta does support Israel’s bid in 2018 in return for Israel’s support for Malta’s bid in 2022, this could have severe consequences on Malta’s relationship with Arab countries, especially countries in North Africa and the Gulf which have longstanding excellent relations with Malta.

This concern was confirmed by Vella, who explained that following the revelation of Malta’s support for Israel by MaltaToday, several Arab countries approached him personally to express their anger at Malta’s decision.

During Monday’s programme, 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.

Following Labour’s election last year, Prime Minister Joseph Muscat visited Israel on a trip which had originally been planned two years before by the previous administration, and called off because of the unrest in Libya in 2011.

During his visit, Muscat signed a number of agreements with the Israeli government, covering energy, health, research and tourism. With four years to go for the UN election, annulling the agreement reached by the PN government would impinge on the wide-ranging agreements sealed by Muscat’s administration.