Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Lithuanian Foreign Minister to EU: 'Stop talking so much about Mideast'

(Jpost).Lithuanian Foreign Minister Vygaudas Usackas urged European diplomats this week to "stop talking too much about the Middle East" and said he believes Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu "wants peace and genuinely wants a Palestinian state."

Usackas made his first visit to Israel last week, meeting with senior Israeli and Palestinian officials and attending the Foreign Ministry's Global Forum for Combating Anti-Semitism Conference in Jerusalem.

In an interview in Tel Aviv at the end of his four-day visit, Usackas, who represents a member state of both the European Union and NATO, said the EU's role in the peace process should avoid political pressure on the sides, but rather focus on capacity-building and financial assistance toward Palestinian development.

This contradicts the views of some EU member states who have sought to use EU forums to create diplomatic pressure on the sides, usually Israel, by attempting to bring the EU to recognize the division of Jerusalem and other measures.

"My message that I'm bringing back to my colleagues in EU member states: Stop talking too much about the Middle East," he told The Jerusalem Post.

"Let the new EU Foreign Minister Lady Cathy Ashton carry the message... [that] we support in small ways the capacities of the Palestinian Authority, and [will] help to create an environment for future peace talks which only you [Israelis] and the Palestinians can move forward."

Following the meetings, which included Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman and opposition chairwoman MK Tzipi Livni, Usackas said he believed that the current Israeli government "wants peace," and that Netanyahu "genuinely wants a Palestinian state.

Most importantly," he added, "Netanyahu wants Israelis to live in security and peace with their neighbors. It will be up to the citizens and voters of Israel to judge his program and actions, but we trust him."

Asked what Europe should do to encourage talks and a resolution to the conflict, Usackas again cautioned against trusting "outsiders" to do the work.

"Only Israelis and Palestinians can make peace," he said.

Even so, Lithuania "welcomes the Netanyahu [government's] announcement regarding acceptance of the two-state solution, and the temporary [freeze] of settlement [construction] in the West Bank. We'd like to see a full stop of settlements which would enable a return to the negotiating table."

Lithuania, before the Holocaust home to one of the most influential and ancient Jewish communities in the world, "has a special relationship with the Jewish world, with Israel," Usackas said, "but we also share the aspirations of the Palestinians to have their own separate state."