Malaysia’s Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim said that his government will not recognize any unilateral sanctions, following the proposal of a U.S. law that would impose sanctions on foreign supporters of Hamas and other militant groups operating in Palestine.
On November 1, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the Hamas International Financing Prevention Act, which is now awaiting approval by the Senate. The bill seeks to impose sanctions “on foreign persons, agencies, and governments that assist Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ), or their affiliates.”
Anwar, who has been outspoken in his support for the Palestinian cause, said that his government was monitoring the progress of the bill, but vowed that it would maintain its ties with Hamas, whose bloody incursions into southern Israel on October 7 sparked the current war.
“I will not accept any threats, including this,” Anwar said in Parliament yesterday, BenarNews reported. “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.”
However, the bill, assuming passed, would only affect Malaysia if it could be proven that it has provided material support to Hamas. Whatever the threat, however, it is domestically important for Anwar to make clear his opposition to Israel’s retaliatory attacks on Gaza and his determination to resist any foreign pressure to change the country’s position.
Since the beginning of the war, Anwar has emerged as one of the world’s most outspoken critics of Israel, putting him in opposition to key partners in the West, particularly the United States. He has described the current Israeli offensive against the Gaza Strip as “the height of barbarism in this world,” and argued that the root cause of the October 7 attacks was Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territories. He has also vowed to maintain the close relationship that Malaysia has with Hamas, after holding a phone call with one of its senior leaders in the aftermath of the October 7 attacks.
The Malaysian leader claimed last week that since the beginning of the war the U.S. government had brought diplomatic pressure to bear on his government to shift its position on Hamas, but that it would maintain “its independent position.”
Anwar told Parliament yesterday that his government will “continue our relationship with Hamas and we do not view Hamas as a terrorist organization.” He added, “Instead, we provide a clear comparison and rationale, similar to how other movements that have been under apartheid programs are viewed.”
I have previously argued that the difference in opinion on Israel-Palestine is unlikely to damage relations between Washington and Kuala Lumpur. U.S. officials recognize that the Palestinian cause has long commanded bipartisan support, and Anwar’s political fortunes depend on him taking a stand on the issue. However, the involvement of the U.S. Congress, which has a track record of taking moralistic and maximalist positions on foreign policy issues, could conceivably create complications, should the bill pass the Senate and be signed into law by President Biden.