So long, sovereignty

Joseph Muscat and Robert Abela have betrayed everything their political party once stood for: equality at home and sovereignty

06/06/2024| Ranier Fsadni – https://timesofmalta.com/

Palestinian men walk past damaged buildings in al-Bureij camp in the central Gaza Strip. Photo: AFP

Palestinian men walk past damaged buildings in al-Bureij camp in the central Gaza Strip. Photo: AFP

In 2014, Barack Obama, then US president, faced the camera and addressed a Palestinian audience. You do deserve a state, he said; but, he added, wagging his finger, this is not the right time.

Not the right time for whom? Him, of course. Obama was facing difficult mid-term elections in a few months. So the Palestinians’ right to self-determination had to be put on hold. A dozen years later, it’s still not the right time.

And Malta is singing from the same hymn sheet. It won’t be the right time until the Palestinians sort out their governance issues. We need to use the carrot of statehood, says our foreign ministry, as leverage over the Palestinians.

How’s that for irony? If Malta had had to be granted independence only after it sorted out its governance issues, we might still be a colony today.

Here is Malta using the rhetoric of colonisers. It’s taking it upon itself to decide when the right to self-determination is to be awarded. Only a power that deems itself superior would treat self-determination as a concession to be given as a gift.

The second irony is that this colonial rhetoric is deployed by a government that will accuse its critics of a “colonial mentality” at the drop of a hat. The third irony: a government that has trampled over every tenet of good governance – earning us international criticism across the board – has the nerve to tell another people they need to sort out their governance issues.

It’s not even good analysis. It turns cause and effect on their head. Yes, the Palestinian administration in the West Bank is deeply corrupt; so is Hamas in Gaza. But it is well-documented that it’s the lack of a state that permits the kleptocrats and terrorist thugs to retain power. If you want governance issues to be sorted, begin to take concrete steps to give Palestinians real autonomy.

But the greatest irony is that Malta’s lecture on good governance should be prompted by its own fetid corruption.

The Sunday Times of Malta has reported that Malta’s position is the result of the US demanding payback. It played a major role in getting us off the FATF grey list, the censure we suffered because Malta was seen as going easy on money laundering.

What the US now requests, sources said, is now acceded to. We dance to the tune.

The foreign ministry has denounced this as lies, saying the issue wasn’t even raised in the meeting between Ian Borg and Anthony Blinken, the US Secretary of State.

Borg has no credibility (he has denied blaspheming in public despite a recording contradicting him; in a separate case, a magistrate has doubted his testimony). Even if he did, the issue isn’t whether Palestine was raised with Blinken. It could have been raised elsewhere; the quid pro quo can be unspoken.

Loss of sovereignty is another cost of the deep corruption of the Muscat and Abela governments– Ranier Fsadni

What is indubitable is that the new Maltese position is a sharp turnaround. Until now, successive governments made sure Malta was at the forefront of recognising Palestinian rights.

We recognised Palestinian representatives as ambassadors almost 40 years ago. We resisted international pressure, not least from the US, to dilute our commitment to Palestine even while we were in negotiations over matters that were important to us.

Malta’s Foreign Minister Ian Borg (left) has said the issue of a Palestinian state was not brought up at a meeting with Secretary of State Antony Blinken. Photo: AFP

Malta used to enjoy special regard in the southern Mediterranean because we used to underline that our former colonial status gave us a special affinity and understanding of regional concerns. Now, we talk like the colonisers. Unusually, we are ceding ground to others, like Spain and Ireland, at precisely the time when the mass murder of Palestinian children is taking place.

Let’s not be distracted by the red herrings. The issue is not that the US is pressuring us. It’s that we’re giving in to it.

The US is doing what a superpower does. It’s using leverage to get us to dance to its tune.

But we’ve resisted the US on this issue before. It was out of self-interest, not virtue. Insisting on the rule of international law is tiny Malta’s way of getting some leverage. In a world of big beasts, trying to get us to do their bidding, law is a restraining influence.

In the long run, law favours the weak. For that same reason, Malta has consistently championed international, multilateral institutions. Our new-found colonial rhetoric doesn’t just undermine Palestinians. We’re also shafting ourselves – acting against our own best interests and signalling we are ready to succumb to pressure even when it comes to long-held positions.

Nor does the issue depend on how we feel about Hamas. October’s terrorist attack was heinous. Nothing justifies the killing, let alone the desecration of corpses and kidnappings. It is right that the International Criminal Court is seeking to bring Hamas leaders to trial.

The issue here is about who decides Malta’s foreign policy: us or another country. The answer is clear: it’s not us. Even by our government’s standards of incoherence, our current position makes no sense.

It’s a complete break from a longstanding position. It’s at odds with the signals we were giving until very recently. It doesn’t even add up. Only statehood would enable Palestinians to sort out governance issues; being de facto colonised certainly won’t.

This loss of sovereignty is another cost of the deep corruption of the Muscat and Abela governments. To protect their private interests, they’re prepared to compromise the national interest.

They’ve betrayed everything their political party once stood for: equality at home and sovereignty abroad.