By Samirul Ariff Othman

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia: Malaysia's foreign policy towards Palestine and Israel is a striking blend of steadfast support for the Palestinian cause and an unequivocal rejection of Israel's policies. Picture this: a country that consistently stands up for Palestinian rights on the global stage, from the United Nations to the Organization of Islamic Cooperation. Malaysia calls for Palestinian statehood based on pre-1967 borders with East Jerusalem as the capital, all while condemning Israeli settlements and the Gaza blockade as violations of international law and human rights. 
Malaysia doesn't just talk the talk—it walks the walk by providing substantial humanitarian aid to Palestinians, including financial assistance and medical supplies. This commitment is matched by a strict policy of non-recognition of Israel, complete with bans on Israeli passport holders and direct trade. Malaysia's support for the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement further underscores its stance, encouraging boycotts of Israeli products and companies.
What’s fascinating is the broad political consensus in Malaysia on this issue. Support for Palestine cuts across party lines, reflecting deep public sentiment. Public rallies and demonstrations in support of Palestinians are common, organized by political parties and civil society groups, showing widespread solidarity.
Regionally, Malaysia collaborates with other Muslim-majority countries to bolster the Palestinian cause, pushing for collective diplomatic efforts within the OIC and working closely with nations like Turkey and Indonesia. At the heart of Malaysia's policy is advocacy for a two-state solution, emphasizing mutual recognition and a just, lasting peace.
In essence, Malaysia's approach to Palestine and Israel is a masterclass in strategic advocacy, rooted in historical, religious, and humanitarian considerations. It’s a policy that resonates deeply within the country and aligns seamlessly with the broader Muslim world, showcasing Malaysia's commitment to justice and peace in one of the world's most intractable conflicts.
Strategic ambiguity in foreign policy 
Strategic ambiguity in foreign policy is like a masterful game of chess where the players never fully reveal their next move. It’s about creating a fog of uncertainty that keeps adversaries guessing and allies reassured, all while maintaining maximum flexibility. Imagine a world where every action or statement is meticulously crafted to serve multiple purposes, preventing opponents from drawing a clear bead on your intentions and capabilities. This approach, quintessentially savvy and pragmatic, is designed to prevent conflicts, manage alliances, and achieve strategic goals without locking a country into rigid commitments.
Take, for instance, in the Middle East, strategic ambiguity plays out in U.S. relations with Iran. By keeping the specifics of potential military responses or economic sanctions unclear, the U.S. maintains leverage over Iran’s nuclear ambitions. This ambiguity provides the U.S. with room to maneuver, enabling it to negotiate from a position of strength while avoiding a full-blown crisis. It’s like holding a set of powerful cards but never showing your entire hand, leaving your opponent uncertain and cautious.
Strategic ambiguity also shines in the realm of nuclear deterrence. Countries like Israel neither confirm nor deny the possession of nuclear weapons, which creates a powerful deterrent effect without provoking direct challenges or regional arms races. This veil of uncertainty forces potential adversaries to factor in the worst-case scenario, thereby enhancing national security without the risks that come with explicit declarations.
In the South China Sea, the U.S. employs strategic ambiguity to maintain freedom of navigation operations. By not specifying how it would respond to Chinese aggression, the U.S. deters Beijing’s expansionist activities while avoiding a direct military confrontation. This ambiguity serves to uphold international maritime laws and reassure regional allies without triggering an arms race or escalating tensions unnecessarily.
Officially, the U.S. sanctions policy is typically driven by a variety of factors, including concerns about terrorism, money laundering, human rights violations, and compliance with international norms, rather than solely a country's stance on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Malaysia has been a vocal supporter of the Palestinian cause and has  condemned Israeli actions in Gaza. What is emerging is that the United States is beginning to apply sanctions specifically on Malaysian companies, and this is most probably due to Malaysia's vocal support of the Gaza War.
However it can be argued that Malaysian leaders’ support for Palestinian can also be a meant for the domestic audience, playing to the gallery so to speak. Actually it can be argued all of these theatricals are meant to deflect public attention to the lacklustre performance of the Malaysian Ringgit and rising costs of living amongst others. 
Charity begins at home
Therefore Malaysian politicians should stop using the Palestinian cause for expedient purposes. Instead they should focus on the well being of her own  citizens, which is why they were elected to office in the first place!
Malaysian politicians need to tone down the rhetoric and embrace strategic ambiguity, focusing on economic diplomacy. Why? Because Malaysia is a small, open economy deeply integrated into global value chains, with trade accounting for a significant percentage of its GDP. In today's interconnected world, economic diplomacy is crucial. By prioritizing economic relationships over polarizing rhetoric, Malaysia can remain an attractive partner for international trade and investment. 
With over 130 percent of its GDP tied to trade in 2022, Malaysia's economic health hinges on strong relationships with key global players. Participation in global value chains, particularly in sectors like electronics and automotive, means that disruptions to international relationships could have serious economic consequences. 
Strategic ambiguity will allow Malaysia to navigate complex international issues without alienating allies or trading partners, preserving flexibility and avoiding unnecessary conflicts. This approach helps balance domestic and international interests, promoting national values without compromising economic security. In essence, by adopting a more measured stance and focusing more on economic diplomacy, Malaysia can safeguard its role in the global economy, ensuring sustainable growth and prosperity.
While it is important for Malaysian politicians to address domestic concerns and reflect public sentiment, it is equally crucial to balance these with international considerations. Adopting a more measured and strategically ambiguous approach in foreign policy can help avoid backlash from major global players. This balance ensures that Malaysia can continue to promote its values and support important causes without compromising its economic security and growth prospects.
In the final analysis, strategic ambiguity is a powerful tool in the diplomatic toolkit. It allows states to preserve peace, manage conflicts, and maintain a balance of power in an increasingly complex and interconnected world. It’s diplomacy at its most subtle and effective. Malaysian Politicians must tone down the rhetoric and embrace Strategic Ambiguity. They should focus on Economic Diplomacy, simply because Trade as a percentage of GDP is high and Malaysia is a small open economy highly integrated into Global Value Chain (GVCs).
*Economist Samirul Ariff Othman is an international relations analyst and a senior consultant with Global Asia Consulting (GAC).*