Ma'an News Agency
January 4, 2011 - 1:00am

Israeli foreign ministry officials are working defense on the international stage, PA Foreign Minister Riyad Al-Maliki told Ma'an, saying his Israeli counterpart had taken to visiting the same nations he visits and working to undo advances in Palestinian foreign relations.

Traveling with President Mahmoud Abbas on his recent trip to South America, Senegal and Tunis, Al-Maliki spoke of the West Bank government's efforts to push Palestinian statehood on the international stage, and anticipating Israeli diplomatic moves that could seek to quash successful initiatives.

"It is not easy to anticipate what the Israeli reaction will be," Al-Makili said, adding that what he did know was that the country "does not accept failure, so there will be a reaction."

In the last month of 2010, four South American nations formally recognized a Palestinian state, with another two pledging to make the diplomatic move in 2011. The wave of support for a unilateral declaration of Palestinian statehood was condemned by both Israel and the US, while a call to Europe for recognition was met with a promise to recognize a state when it was "appropriate."

"Israel will continue to exert pressure on the countries which have recognized, or are willing to recognize a Palestinian state," Al-Maliki said, adding that the Palestinian foreign ministry was prepared for the Israeli imposition of sanctions on the ministry and its staff. "They could even try and blackmail some of the countries which recognized Palestinian state," he said.

The strategy, however, appeared at first to be simple. "We immediately knew that ambassadors of Israel to the countries we visited sent warning reports to Lieberman who promptly toured the very same countries I visited in the Horn of Africa. He also invited officials from those countries to take ten-day vacations with their families in Israel at the expense of Israeli treasury," Al-Maliki said.

"We realized from the beginning that the Israeli foreign ministry was watching every step we take."

The foreign minister said that ten days after he visited Azerbaijan, Uzbekistan, and Kazakhstan, Lieberman visited the same countries, prompting Russian media to write of a war between Israeli and Palestinian foreign ministers. "We unfortunately don’t have the budget for such a competition with the Israelis, but we do not build our foreign policy as he does."

With the foreign ministers pitted against each other, Al-Maliki observed that Lieberman, a native of Moldova and a Russian speaker, used his background to leverage support in Eastern Europe and the Balkans. "I do the same when I visit Spanish-speaking countries," Al-Maliki, who is fluent in Spanish, reflected.

On politics, Al-Maliki said he hoped his own moderate position would be well reflected in the way he was received by the international community. "When foreign ministers of other countries slam Lieberman as an extremist, I do not intervene, but rather listen to them exposing him on their own."

A former supporter of the leftist party the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, Al-Maliki said that his politics had moderated a great deal in his lifetime. "I was one of the falcons, but now I am part of the doves and I represent the moderate Palestinian policy of President Abbas and Prime Minister Salam Fayyad. I supported negotiations and the two-state solution, while Lieberman is an extremist who does not believe in political moderation. We are completely different and the only thing we have in common is our official title."


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