Is Anwar missing a major opportunity in Palestine?

For all of Anwar Ibrahim’s support for Palestine, Malaysia still doesn’t have a resident mission in Ramallah on the West Bank.

Murray Hunter

The Palestinian crisis is an important issue to Malaysians, and Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim has always made it a point to provide his support to the Palestinian people.

While attending the Qatar Economic Forum earlier last month, Anwar met the Hamas delegation, led by its political chief, Ismail Haniyeh.

According to his Facebook post, Anwar praised Hamas for its willingness to release hostages, and called on the Israeli government to agree to a peace plan, writing: “Malaysia will remain committed to play its role on the international level for an end to the attacks on Rafah.”

Anwar, as a longtime personal friend of Ismail, also conveyed his condolences on the death of the latter’s family in Gaza.

Anwar received a briefing on the latest situation in Gaza and Rafah. At the Nikkei conference in Tokyo, he went on to justify his meeting with the Hamas leadership, as he believed he had an advantage in appealing to Hamas because of his friendship.

Has Anwar missed a major opportunity?

With Spain, Ireland and Norway having formally recognised the state of Palestine, the Palestinian prime minister, Mohammad Mustafa, said in Brussels the Palestinian Authority should prepare to govern all Palestinian territories.

Mustafa said: “The Palestinian government is committed to work hard to support our people in Gaza and to integrate them into the Palestinian Authority to work on reforming and improving the performance of our institutions, and deliver good services for our citizens in Gaza and the West Bank, in preparation for full independence and statehood.”

Although Hamas leader Khaled Mashal clearly rejected the two-state solution in January this year, Hamas officials have been negotiating with Fatah on the issue. Delegations from both Fatah and Hamas had two major meetings this year, one in Moscow and another in Beijing.

According to Beijing’s foreign affairs ministry, the Israeli war has provoked the two rival groups to conduct a “candid dialogue” to achieve reconciliation and participate in a peace plan as a unified government.

Any peace talks between the unified Palestinian state and Israel would possibly have the backing of China and Russia.

After winning the legislative election in 2007, Hamas took over the de facto government in Gaza, with Fatah controlling parts of the occupied West Bank. The war between Israel and Hamas has so far cost up to 40,000 lives of Palestinians, and 1,200 Israeli lives, according to various estimates.

However, the conflict between Fatah and Hamas underlies, and certainly undermines, any potential comprehensive peace and an end to the loss of life in Gaza.

This is a possible lost opportunity for Malaysia to play a major role in bringing peace to the region.

European nations’ foreign ministers are engaging the Palestinian Authority, the formal and legitimate representative of the State of Palestine.

Anwar is engaging the leadership of Hamas in exile in Qatar.

There is certainly much more going on than what is happening there.

The Palestinian Authority in Ramallah is an important state player in the diplomacy of the conflict. Anwar, with the Palestinian embassy domiciled in Kuala Lumpur, has a perfect opportunity to take on a statesman’s role in the potential peace process.

The state of Palestine is currently recognised by 142 members of the United Nations, while 43 nations have diplomatic missions or representative offices domiciled in Ramallah on the West Bank.

With all of Anwar’s outpouring support for Palestine, Malaysia still doesn’t have a resident mission in Ramallah. Malaysia covers Palestine through its embassy in Amman, Jordan, with only an honorary consul in Ramallah.

It may now be time for Anwar to rebalance his approach to the Palestinian issue and utilise his credentials and stature to play a major role in giving birth to a truly independent Palestinian state and end of the war in Gaza.