Palestinian authorities are protesting Malawi's plan to open an embassy in Jerusalem, which, if carried out, would make it the first African country to do so. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas sent an envoy to Malawi Thursday asking President Lazarus Chakwera to withdraw the plan, calling it a violation of a U.N. resolution on the disputed territory.
Briefing reporters after presenting a protest letter to Chakwera at the State House in the capital Lilongwe, Palestinian envoy Hanan Jarrar said Malawi’s decision is a cause of great concern.
“This is a main concern for us. This is the issue of sovereignty; this is the issue of recognizing the state of Palestine. This is the issue of violating international law and violating international parameters when it comes to the status of Jerusalem,” Jarrar said.
The letter from Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas asked Chakwera to reconsider Malawi’s plans for an embassy in Jerusalem. Israel considers the city its eternal capital, but Palestinians want East Jerusalem, seized in a 1967 Middle East war, as part of a future state.
Jarrar said Jerusalem is still a disputed territory and any action that seeks to alter the character and status of the city violates U.N. Security Council Resolution 476, approved in 1980 and reaffirmed in 2016 by Resolution 2334.
“Malawi should be with international community. Malawi shouldn’t choose to be on the wrong side of history. Malawi shouldn’t choose to follow an apartheid state,” Jarrar said.
Currently, only the United States and Guatemala have embassies in Jerusalem.
Chakwera first announced the decision to open an embassy in Jerusalem in his state of the nation address in September, sparking a heated debate among Malawians.
Chakwera told parliament recently that Malawi is a sovereign state and its decision cannot be influenced by any foreign nation or institution.
“I wish to appeal to this august house and the nation that we should never conduct our foreign policy and international cooperation at the behest of pressure from anybody. We should conduct our diplomacy and international relations on the basis of mutual respect and equality of all states under international law,” Chakwera said.
After delivering the letter, Jarrar said she could not tell Chakwera’s position on the matter.
“His excellency was very clear on the position of Malawi recognizing the state of Palestine in 1989. He was very clear about that and he said that he appreciates this kind of engagement. He appreciates the letter sent by President Mahmoud Abbas. He will have a look at it and they will discuss it internally,” Jarrar said.
Sheriff Kaisi, a political science lecturer at Blantyre International University, told VOA that Malawi should tread carefully to avoid being caught up in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict over disputed territory.
“We are saying the embassy should be established but why not in Tel Aviv? Because if you look at Israel, you will find that many countries have their embassies in Tel Aviv, not particularly in Jerusalem. So, this is why we are saying ‘why Malawi is putting itself at a tight corner?' This issue is about security. Because if you go into war zone, definitely expect the fragments of the war zone to come to you as well,” he said.
Kaisi said Chakwera should have held wider national consultations before he made his decision.
Malawi’s Foreign Minister Eisenhower Mkaka is currently visiting Israel, advancing Chakwera’s plan to open an embassy in Jerusalem next year.