KUALA LUMPUR (THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK, AFP) - Israel’s participation at the Ninth World Urban Forum (WUF9) in Malaysia was on an invitation by the United Nations, said Foreign Minister Datuk Seri Anifah Aman.
In a statement on Thursday (Feb 15), the minister said the invitation was issued by the United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN-Habitat) agency, which convened the forum.
“Unlike the other letters of invitation, the invitation to Israel was not signed by any Malaysian official, so the issue of Malaysia tacitly establishing links with Israel through this forum does not arise. “Our position on Israel remains unchanged and to imply otherwise is an indication of malicious intent,” he said.
Anifah added that Israel’s invitation was signed by the executive director of UN-Habitat in accordance with the Host Country Agreement signed between UN-Habitat and Malaysia. Article 3 of the agreement states that the forum is open to all UN member states and any of its specialised agencies.
“The forum was widely acknowledged to have been a success. It raised Malaysia’s profile and showcased our achievements in promoting, articulating and implementing the new urban agenda. All Malaysians should be proud of our country’s successful hosting of this prestigious and important forum,” said Anifah.
Malaysia has no formal diplomatic ties with Israel and many in the country support the Palestinian cause, with thousands taking to the streets in December to protest when US President Donald Trump recognised Jerusalem as the Jewish state's capital.
The Israeli delegation at the conference was led by David Roet, who used to be Israel's deputy ambassador to the UN, and included other senior foreign ministry officials and a former minister, the Times of Israel reported.
Roet posted pictures of himself on Twitter at various locations around Kuala Lumpur and next to a Malaysian flag.
"I have great hopes for good relations between our two countries in the future," he said in a tweet.
Opposition groups and Islamic NGOs attacked the government for allowing him to take part in the event, with Rais Hussin from political party Bersatu labelling it a "great disservice to the Palestinian cause".
"Israel will be very happy that this has happened," he told AFP.
Malaysia has previously stopped Israelis from entering the country for international events.
In 2015, two Israeli windsurfers were denied visas for a competition on the holiday island of Langkawi, forcing them to withdraw from the event.