Israel has hailed President Lazarus Chakwera’s decision to establish a diplomatic mission in Jerusalem, saying Malawi has demonstrated its sovereignty and desire to strengthen its ties with Israel.
In an interview on Wednesday in Lilongwe, Israel Ambassador Oded Joseph, who is based in Nairobi, Kenya, said there is no controversy in Malawi’s decision because Jerusalem is Israel’s capital.
He said: “We are naturally encouraged with President’s Chakwera’s decision which gives Malawi easy access to Israel.
“This is a long-standing relationship between the two countries and the President’s decision to establish a mission in Jerusalem is nothing strange; this is our capital. So, the issue of recognition does not arise.”
His sentiments come against a background of an unresolved conflict between Israel and Palestine over east Jerusalem. Due to the conflict, many countries in diplomatic relations with Israel have not recognised Jerusalem as the capital and instead establish their missions in Tel Aviv.
In its online edition, The Times of Israel reported that if Chakwera fulfils his promise, Malawi would be the first African country to establish a diplomatic office in Jerusalem.
During the interview, Joseph said the conflict between Israel and Arab countries was no longer an issue because Israel was in close contact with the countries.
He said Chakwera needs support as he has started on a good note, citing his appearance in Parliament to answer questions from legislators. He is the second President among five in post-1994 Malawi to fulfil this constitutional requirement. The other was Bakili Muluzi, the first multiparty president who served between 1994 and 2004.
The diplomat also said the President’s move to reduce presidential powers was another signal of a leader willing to improve the country’s state of affairs.
In his maiden State of the Nation Address (Sona) delivered in Parliament on September 4, Chakwera announced that Malawi will establish its mission in Jerusalem, a decision some local governance commentators have described as insensitive and a violation of the United Nations Security Council resolution.
The critics expressed fear that the decision could spark some diplomatic row.
In an earlier interview, Professor Happy Kayuni, who teaches public policy and political science at Chancellor College—a constituent college of the University of Malawi, observed that Malawi already has strong ties with Israel and that it would be better if the new administration avoided the Jerusalem controversy.
But responding to questions in Parliament on September 10, Chakwera acknowledged the debate on his decision to reopen the mission offices in Jerusalem, saying Malawi was a sovereign State and that “relationships will be established with any country provided it is for the benefit of Malawian people”.
In November last year, Chakwera—a former Malawi Assemblies of God president who quit the pulpit in 2012 to join frontline politics by vying for the Malawi Congress Party (MCP) presidency—visited Israel to pray for Malawi, according to his post on Twitter.
Since 2017, United States (US) President Donald Trump officially has championed a campaign to have Jerusalem recognised as the capital of Israel.
However, when the question was put at the UN General Assembly in December 2017, there were 128 countries that voted against the US proposal while nine were in favour and 35 were absentee votes, including Malawi. Togo is the only African country to have voted in favour of the US proposal.
But in May 2016, the US proceeded to move its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. The European Union, the United Nations and African Union have all expressed worry over Trump’s move, saying it is a setback for peace efforts between Israel and Palestine.
Chakwera became the sixth President of Malawi following his triumph in the court-sanctioned Fresh Presidential Election held on June 23.