Malaysia rebuffs US diplomatic pressure to name Hamas a terrorist group

Iman Muttaqin Yusof
Kuala Lumpur
Malaysia rebuffs US diplomatic pressure to name Hamas a terrorist group Malaysian Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim speaks during a rally to show support for Palestinian people in Kuala Lumpur, Oct. 24, 2023.
Vincent Thian/AP

The U.S. has been pressing Malaysia through diplomatic channels to label Hamas a terrorist group following its deadly Oct. 7 attack on Israel, Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim revealed Tuesday, warning that his government would not give in to any coercion.

In the weeks after the attack, the U.S. State Department has summoned the Malaysian envoy in Washington and the American embassy in Kuala Lumpur has sent the foreign ministry two démarche notes to demand that Malaysia change its stance on Hamas and Israel’s actions in the Gaza Strip, Anwar told Parliament.

“Because of our reluctance to label Hamas a terrorist organization and consider Hamas as terrorists, I have received information that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs received a ‘démarche,’ or diplomatic protest, from the U.S. Embassy twice, first on Oct. 13 and second on Oct. 30,” Anwar told lawmakers on Tuesday.

“Malaysia will not change its stance, particularly our reluctance to consider Hamas as a terrorist group … Malaysia maintains its independent position.”

A démarche is a representation of a government’s official position to another government, according to the U.S. State Department. Démarches seek to persuade, and governments may also use them to protest actions by a foreign government.

Malaysia’s ambassador to Washington was also summoned on Oct. 18 by the State Department, “which raised concerns about our stance on the Israel-Palestine issue, especially regarding Israel’s actions in Gaza,” Anwar said.

Anwar has been among the most vocal Southeast Asian leaders in condemning Israel’s bombings and siege of the Gaza Strip in the wake of the Hamas attack. On Oct. 7, the militant group launched surprise rocket strikes and ground raids into southern Israel from Gaza during which civilians were massacred, according to reports.

Officials at the U.S. embassy did not immediately respond to BenarNews requests for comment. The BenarNews bureau in Washington contacted the State Department separately to seek comment but officials did not respond on Tuesday.

Malaysia, one of the two largest Muslim-majority countries in Southeast Asia, has had a longstanding relationship with Hamas and has not condemned the wave of Hamas attacks on Oct. 7 that killed at least 1,400 people, mostly civilians, reports said.

And as of Tuesday, more than 8,000 Palestinian civilians had been killed in Israeli airstrikes on Gaza that followed the initial Hamas attacks, the Associated Press news agency reported.

It was not immediately clear whether the Biden administration, which has expressed its staunch solidarity with Israel since Oct. 7, was singling out Malaysia or targeting it as part of a diplomatic push to get other countries to agree with Washington’s position on the Mid-East crisis.

The U.S. has found itself among a minority on the world stage and has been criticized internationally over its moves to veto or vote against U.N. resolutions calling for a humanitarian ceasefire in Gaza.

Palestinians look for survivors following an Israeli airstrike at the Nusseirat refugee camp in the Gaza Strip, Oct. 31, 2023. [Doaa AlBaz/AP]

Anwar said Malaysia’s stance on Hamas and Israel’s strikes was based on humanitarian grounds, as it views Israel’s occupation of Gaza “as illegal under international law and norms.”

“This conflict did not start just a month ago; it has been ongoing for decades, since 1998.

Therefore, to condone all acts of violence, invasion, and Israeli colonization of Arab territories and Palestine is unreasonable,” the Malaysian PM said.

Many other countries have also condemned Israel’s retaliatory military strike on the densely populated Palestinian enclave, alleging that the Jewish state has violated international laws through its siege of Gaza and aerial bombardment and leveling of neighborhoods in its war against Hamas.

‘Long-established relationship’ with Hamas

Malaysians have for the past weeks expressed their solidarity with Palestinians through seven nationwide rallies, including one that Anwar attended along with 20,000 people. The country’s education ministry has also launched a Palestine Solidarity Week in schools from Oct. 29 to Nov. 3.

Malaysia and Malaysians have long been supportive of Hamas and vocally so, which brings them a high profile, analysts told BenarNews.

Malaysia has hosted Hamas leaders Khalid Mashal and Ismail Haniyeh, noted Julia Roknifard, of the School of Politics, History and International Relations at the University of Nottingham.

“I am sure it is in line with this long-established relationship that the government is reluctant to condemn Hamas directly,” she told BenarNews.

On the démarche notes, Roknifard said such practices were common.

“It does not mean they are bound to be consequential. If it is followed by some sort of sanctions that is another matter. It was alright for Malaysia to stand its ground on the Palestinian issue,” she said.

Participants hold a Palestinian flag at a solidarity rally in Kuala Lumpur, Oct. 28, 2023. [S. Mahfuz/BenarNews]

Another analyst, Tunku Mohar Mokhtar, a professor at International Islamic University Malaysia, said that Hamas and the Israeli regime were considered terrorists by different states.

“To Malaysia, [Hamas] is a freedom fighter, not a terrorist. Malaysia officially communicates with Hamas although it has formal diplomatic relations with the Palestinian authority,” he told BenarNews. “Obviously, the U.S. and Malaysia have opposing stances on this conflict.”

Indonesian president ‘furious’

Meanwhile, Anwar, like Indonesia and Singapore’s leaders, has been demanding a ceasefire in the Israel-Hamas conflict.

On Monday, Indonesian President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo said his government was extremely angry about the worsening humanitarian situation in Gaza and condemned Israel’s attacks on civilians and infrastructure there.

“Indonesia is furious about the worsening situation in Gaza, especially the humanitarian situation there,” he said in a statement.

“Indonesia’s position is very clear and unequivocal in condemning Israel’s attacks on civilians in Gaza and civilian facilities in Gaza.”

The president emphasized that violence in Palestine must end immediately with a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday rejected the idea of a ceasefire in Gaza.

“Calls for a ceasefire are calls for Israel to surrender to Hamas, to surrender to terrorism,” he said, according to news agencies.

Release of Thai workers

Elsewhere in Southeast Asia, Thailand’s foreign minister departed for Qatar and Egypt to secure help in negotiating the release of 22 Thai workers taken captive by Hamas since Oct. 7.

Foreign Minister Parnpree Bahiddha-Nakara was scheduled to meet Qatar’s prime minister and foreign minister in Doha on Tuesday, the Thai Foreign Ministry said. A meeting with the Egyptian minister of foreign affairs in Cairo is scheduled for Wednesday.

“We intend to secure their release as soon as possible. However, no one knows where those hostages are – in what country? Inside or out of the Gaza Strip?” Parnpree told reporters before his departure.

“The Thai government has opened negotiations through all available channels that could contact Hamas for the release.”

So far, Thai authorities said 32 Thai workers had died in the conflict zone and 19 had been injured.

Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin warned that the situation remained precarious and that he wanted all of the nearly 30,000 Thai workers to return home.

“Danger is looming and we affirm that we want all Thai brothers and sisters to come back home,” he said, adding that the workers are entitled to 50,000 baht compensation plus access to a 150,000-baht loan upon their return.

Money is the decider for some workers like Anant Navasima from Udon Thani province.

“I stay because where I am is calm, no impact from the war. I have loads of debt needed for the arrangement for the trip to work here in Israel but I should settle them in a year,” the 31-year-old told BenarNews via text message from a lychee orchard in Moshav Almagor in northern Israel.

“My father and mother are concerned about me but I have to stand my ground. …When the war is over I will go back.”

Thai authorities said close to 8,000 workers have returned home while about 22,000 remain in Israel.

Nontarat Phaicharoen in Bangkok contributed to this report.


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