In what appears to be an incentive, Israel has promised to provide more support to Malawi following President Lazarus Chakwera’s decision to open an embassy in the contested Holy City of Jerusalem. Chakwera’s decision has raised concerns with some commentators, saying Malawi is violating international resolutions. But Israel feels Malawi has made the right decision, and that the country stands to benefit more from them. Our news analyst SUZGO CHITETE engaged Israeli Ambassador JOSEPH ODED on this and other issues. Excerpts:
Would you share a brief background of Malawi’s relationship with Israel?
In fact, the cordial relationship started even before the independence of Malawi. When Malawi was called Nyasaland several Jewish families found refuge in Nyasaland when they were escaping from the horrible holocaust. We really appreciate this support from the people of Malawi and you only know who your true friends are in times of challenges.
The leadership of Israel will always remember that Malawi was among few countries that did not server ties with Israel in the 70s when there was political pressure to do so. So we have a long history of friendship. I must say the bold decision of President Chakwera to open a mission in Jerusalem will boost our cooperation.
As you have put it, President Chakwera has made a bold decision to open an embassy in Jerusalem. What should be the benefit for Malawi?
Some of the decisions that we have made following the visit by your foreign affairs minister to Jerusalem is that Israel will be sending a development expert to be stationed in Lilongwe. This is to enhance our presence in Malawi and their mandate will be to advance our projects in Malawi. As we speak we are interviewing candidates to identify the right person to be a development expert. We are sending a humble contribution towards the challenge of Covid-19. Again we are talking of immediate steps that we have decided to undertake. After consulting with Ministry of Health in Malawi in terms of priorities we are sending a delegation of experts from one of the best hospitals to see how they can help in the establishment of the cancer centre. Tourism is another area we are interesting in.
Should we say you have fast-tracked your development efforts to Malawi as an incentive for its decision to open an embassy in Jerusalem? Is this a thank-you?
Ido not want to say it is an incentive or a thank you as you put it. There is a true friendship between the two nations. Naturally, we have welcomed the decision by President Chakwera. But again I think the decision by President Chakwera and our actions in the past, present and in future are based on our cordial relationship.
Afew weeks ago the Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas sent a letter to President Chakwera expressing concern on his decision. The Muslim community in Malawi has also warned the risks of the country being a target of extremists. Do you agree?
Absolutely not. Anyone who follows developments in the Middle East will notice that the issue is no longer about Israelis against Arabs or God for forbid, Muslims against Jews. All you need to do is look at peace deals that Israel has signed with the United Arab Emirates [UAE], Bahrain and there are other countries that are discussing with us in that context. Look at the deals we have signed with Chad and Sudan. These developments are an illustration that the issue in the Middle East is no longer about Arabs against Israelis. The Palestinians were trying to condemn our peace agreements with Arab countries—how can one condemn a peace deal? Does this make sense to anyone in Malawi?
What about Malawi being a target of extremists?
I do not want to believe that the leadership of Malawi or any leadership in the world are conducting their dealings under the threat of extremists. With extremists you have to fight them and not give in.
Recently President Chakwera met with an envoy from Palestine – who came to present their concerns on his decision. What do you make out of this? Doesn’t it put Malawi in a fix?
Well, I think it will be very rude of anyone or another country deciding for Malawi what should be their interest. So I would be ashamed to do what the Palestinian envoy has done—to define what should be the interest of the Malawian people or the President. The Palestinians are known for that—instead of supporting positive developments in the Middle East they are leading a league to condemn these developments. For us the Palestinians are our immediate neighbors and we are more than willing to resolve our differences.
Unfortunately, the Palestinian envoy, again, missed an opportunity. I would ask the Palestinian envoy—when was the last time the Palestinians had shown interest in Malawi. Why is that they now have interest just after positive developments in the Middle East and President Chakwera’s decision to open an embassy in Jerusalem? So I think, with due respect, it is only Malawi that can define its interest and only Israel can define its interest.n