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Watch: Malta's Jerusalem stance is just 'a disagreement between friends'

Israeli Ambassador says bilateral relations remain stronger than ever

Video: Matthew Mirabelli

Israeli ambassador Eyal Sela believes Malta’s opposition to the recognition of Jerusalem as the country’s capital is nothing more than a “disagreement between friends” and that bilateral relations remain as strong as ever.

Malta was one of 128 United Nations members last month to vote in favour of a motion rejecting US President Donald Trump’s recognition of the contested city, which is claimed as capital by both Israel and Palestine.

Prime Minister Joseph Muscat said that Malta’s government was “completely opposed” to President Trump’s decision and insisted that any talks about Jerusalem should include all the parties involved.

Speaking to the Times of Malta during one of his regular visits to the country, Jerusalem-based Ambassador Sela said that Maltese foreign minister Carmelo Abela and Israeli Prime Minister (also foreign minister) Benjamin Netanyahu had met just hours before the UN vote and discussed Malta’s position.

READ: We don't take sides between Israel and Palestine, Foreign Minister said

“It was clear for us how Malta was going to vote,” Mr Sela said, “but as friends we used it as an opportunity to exchange views and speak about the issues where we agree and the very few issues where we disagree. We remain very good friends.”

We used it as an opportunity to exchange views and speak about where we agree

Nevertheless, Mr Sela insisted that the UN decision had been a mistake and that recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel was no more than a “statement of reality”.

The city, he said, was home to the Israeli Parliament and the offices of the President and Prime Minister, and was the site at which visiting dignitaries met Israeli leaders.

Israeli ambassador Eyal Sela describes the recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital as no more than a “statement of reality”. Photo: Matthew MirabelliIsraeli ambassador Eyal Sela describes the recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital as no more than a “statement of reality”. Photo: Matthew Mirabelli

He added that a final settlement on the future status of Jerusalem would only be reached through negotiation between Israel and the Palestinians.

Asked whether a more measured approach on Jerusalem might have led to better results, Mr Sela explained: “These are the excuses. Peace is the acceptance of Jewish sovereignty and the Jewish State in this part of the world. Up until now, all other issues are giving excuses to those who are not ready to take this decision.

“The only solution is negotiation, looking at our security and needs, as well as their narrative.

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“We say that this is a place with a little geography and a lot of history; it’s not easy to find a solution, but we will sit and discuss as we have done previously with others.”

On bilateral relations between Malta and Israel, Mr Sela highlighted tourism between the two countries – expressing hope for links by Israeli airlines in the near future – as well as increasing numbers of Israeli companies investing in Malta.

He noted the scope for further cooperation on resource issues, particularly as both countries face water scarcity problems. Israel leads the way globally in water recycling, with nearly 90 per cent of wastewater treated and reused, mostly in agricultural irrigation.

Mr Sela said the future could see cooperation between the two countries on gas and energy, as well as transportation – a private Israeli company, Car2Go, will soon begin offering a national car sharing system in Malta – and health, where he hopes to see an exchange of views between ministries and possible student exchanges.

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