By Minderjeet Kaur
Malaysia’s prime minister said Tuesday that his country would maintain ties with Hamas and not be cowed by the threat of “unilateral” sanctions for doing so in the face of a proposed U.S. law to sanction the Palestinian group’s supporters.
Anwar Ibrahim, who has been outspoken among the world’s Muslim leaders in his support for Palestinians amid the latest Israel-Hamas conflict, said that trade could take a hit if Washington were to sanction Kuala Lumpur under the proposed bill.
“I will not accept any threats, including this,” he said in the Parliament. “This action is unilateral and not valid because we, as members of the United Nations, only recognize decisions made by the United Nations Security Council.”
The U.S. House of Representatives on Nov. 1 passed the Hamas and Other Palestinian Terrorist Groups International Financing Prevention Act with 363 votes in favor and 46 against. It has to next be voted on by the Senate.
Anwar said the act would not influence Malaysia’s policies or decision to continue supporting Hamas, adding that he has contacted other Islamic countries whose leaders expressed similar views.
“We would continue our relationship with Hamas and we do not view Hamas as a terrorist organization,” he said.
“Instead, we provide a clear comparison and rationale, similar to how other movements that have been under apartheid programs are viewed.”
Palestinians were facing ethnic cleansing and genocide, the Malaysian PM added.
“Therefore, what is happening represents a legitimate and valid struggle for the people of Palestine and this forms the basis of our position,” Anwar said.
U.S. President Joe Biden, meanwhile, said in a speech mid-October after a visit to Israel that “the terrorist group Hamas unleashed pure, unadulterated evil in the world.”
Muslim-majority Malaysia has been a vocal supporter of the Palestinian cause and does not have diplomatic relations with Israel. Top Hamas leaders have visited Malaysia and met with previous prime ministers.
Anwar revealed on Oct. 31 that the U.S. sent three notes to Malaysiaafter it refused to label Hamas a terrorist group following its Oct. 7 attacks from Gaza on Israel that killed at least 1,400 people including civilians.
Meanwhile, Israel’s retaliatory bombardment of Gaza has killed more than 10,000 Palestinians, crippling infrastructure and leaving the occupied territory in the midst of a dire humanitarian crisis.
The U.S has been criticized internationally over its moves to veto or vote against U.N. resolutions calling for a humanitarian ceasefire in Gaza.
But U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Saturday said “it is our view now that a ceasefire would simply leave Hamas in place, able to regroup and repeat what it did on Oct. 7.”
Anwar, meanwhile, said he believed that the U.S. bill related to sanctions on Hamas supporters would likely be passed by the U.S. Senate as well “due to the pro-Israel inclinations of the majority of its members.”
But its passage would affect Malaysia only if it were listed as a foreign government proven to have provided financial or material support to Hamas or the Palestinian Islamic Jihad.
Malaysia will urge the U.S. to demonstrate effective leadership in international security and to uphold international laws and relevant conventions, particularly on humanitarian justice, Anwar said.
The prime minister said any restrictions could influence the assessment of the U.S. government and U.S. companies in Malaysia, potentially affecting investment opportunities in Malaysia.
The Malaysian Investment Development Authority’s website reported total trade between the nations grew 23.3% to 267.58 billion ringgit (U.S. $57.4 billion) in 2022 from 216.97 billion ringgit ($46.5 billion) in 2021.
U.S. companies made investment pledges totaling 100 billion ringgit ($21.4 billion) in Malaysia over 18 months ending earlier this year, according to Brian McFeeters, who served as U.S. ambassador to Malaysia from February 2021 to August 2023.