Palestine President Dr Mahmoud Abbas arrived in the Maldives Tuesday, marking the highest-level visit to the Maldives by an official from the Middle Eastern state for 28 years.
Former Palestinian Leader Yasser Arafat had previously visited the Maldives in 1984.
The Maldives Foreign Ministry described the visit today as a “historic moment for Maldives-Palestine relations” and a “time for us to reaffirm the close brotherly bonds which bind our peoples together and to reassert our support for Palestinian statehood.”
As part of the visit, Abbas met with President Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan Manik this afternoon at the President’s Office. Following official talks between the two leaders, a joint statement was given to the media in which Abbas expressed hope that the visit would “enhance the historic relations that already exist between our two countries and peoples”.
Whilst speaking on the current political situation in Palestine and in the Middle-East, Abbas noted that the “peace process in the Middle-East is facing many obstacles because of the Israeli rejection of its obligations according to the international law and quartet statements”.
“In spite of that we are confirming our dedication for negotiations as the best way to implement the two state solution – Israel and Palestine living side by side in peace and prosperity according to Arab peace initiatives and quartet statements,” Abbas observed.
Meanwhile, briefing the media on discussions with the Palestinian delegation, President Waheed stated that he had “reassured President Abbas of our strong support for the peace process” and that the “Maldives endorses Palestine’s stand that direct peace talks with Israel can only be fruitful when Israel suspends the building of settlements in the West Bank.”
The president also added that Maldives would support Palestine’s application for membership of the United Nations and any other international organisations, while noting that Maldives has been a strong supporter of Palestine at the UN Human Rights Council and had utilised every opportunity at the Council to advocate the rights of the Palestinian people.
Even though there is broad support for these calls in Human Rights Council, Waheed stated that the “world has to realise that without a Palestinian State, there can never be Palestinian rights”.
“International recognition of the State of Palestine is no barrier to the continuation of the peace talks. Rather, it helps to bring a sense of equality to both sides in the negotiations,” Waheed continued.
“The security of Israel is equally important. It is also in the best interest of Israel to see the emergence of a viable and strong Palestine. Only a viable and strong Palestine would enable Israel to achieve its own security,” he contended.
“It is therefore profoundly important, and indeed, necessary that a strong and thriving Palestinian State is established on the lands occupied by Israel since 1967. An independent Palestinian state is necessary for achieving durable peace in the region. Most of all, it is necessary for healing the wounds of the past, and achieving reconciliation based on the principles of justice and equality. These are challenging yet attainable objectives. Given the President’s own extra-ordinary life story, I am confident that these objectives can be achieved under the President’s leadership,” Waheed noted.
The floor was closed for questions from reporters and President Abbas was immediately escorted to the jetty to leave for Kurumba Resort. Upon arriving at the resort, the Palestinian leader met with Former President and Leader of the pro-government Progressive Party of the Maldives (PPM) Maumoon Abdul Gayoom and Abduallah Shahid, Speaker of the Parliament.
Following the talks with Abbas, Maumoon told local media that Abbas had aired grievances over the Maldives absence in a vote taken in October 2011 to grant Palestine full membership to the the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).
He claimed that Palestinian delegation had noted that Maldives did not vote in the UNESCO meeting and it was a “big shock” to Palestine and it had “deeply upset” them. The former president noted: “I was very embarrassed to hear that. Maldives should not have done something like that. I told the [delegation] the Maldives did it [not vote] because of the government at the time was under overwhelming foreign influence. But in future, it will not be repeated.”
Minivan News asked whether Abbas had shared any concerns over the former Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) government’s ties with the Isreali government.
Whilst in power, the MDP were repeatedly criticised by the then-opposition claiming the government was conspiring with “Christian missionaries” and “Jews” to “wipe out Islam” from Maldives. The former government has continued to deny the charges, adding that it held the same diplomatic and business relations with Israel that it has with countless other nations around the world.
The Maldives was amongst the nations that were openly critical of the Israeli military response in 2010 to a so-called “Freedom Flotilla” bound for Palestine that reportedly led to nine people being killed aboard the MV Mavi Marmara vessel during an assault in international waters. An estimated 60 activists and 10 Israeli soldiers were also injured in the scuffles that the Maldives’ Ministry of Foreign Affairs condemned “in the strongest possible terms”.
However, Gayoom also said that he had been informed by the visiting Palestinian delegation that they do not want Maldives to establish ties with Isreal.
“They do not want Maldives to do something like that. Because Palestine is still a country which has not acheived its people’s rights and Isreal is the one blocking it. Therefore, the Palestinian government does not want at all for Maldivian government to foster relations with them [Isreal]. Neither do the Maldivians want that,” Gayoom further claimed.
The former president contended that Maldives had always shared good relations with Palestine apart from the last three years of Mohamed Nasheed’s rule, which he described as having “supported Isreal”.
However, Nasheed’s administration contended such claims were “slanderous allegations” and in a visit to Palestine last year, then Foreign Minister Ahmed Naseem announced that the Maldives would work towards the establishment of a sovereign state of Palestine by garnering international support.
According to foreign ministry officials, discussions were held over the opening of a Palestinian Embassy in the Maldives, as well as the creation of a joint Ministerial Action Group to further develop multi-sectoral relationships betwen the two countries.
Abbas is scheduled to depart tomorrow afternoon following a State Luncheon hosted by Dr Waheed.