In a not-so-subtle criticism of the recent European Union directive banning funding of Israeli institutions operating in the West Bank, east Jerusalem and the Golan Heights, President Shimon Peres called on the EU to exercise restraint as peace negotiations get underway.
Peres made the comments in Latvia during a joint press conference with President Andris Berzins. Peres left Israel for a four-day official trip to Latvia and Lithuania on Sunday afternoon.
The Israeli president urged the EU to limit its involvement to simply supporting the Israelis and Palestinians, Israel Radio reported. He sounded a positive note on the talks, arguing that the two sides were not that far apart.
“The foundation for these negotiation is clear,” added Peres. “We want a two-state solution in terms of the Israeli state and a Palestinian state which live in peace and harmony, thus bringing to an end this ancient conflict.”
The president also thanked his Latvian host for advancing the EU’s decision last week to blacklist the military wing of Lebanon-based terror group Hezbollah.
During his visit, Peres will take part in two Holocaust memorial ceremonies, one in each country. In Latvia, he will pay tribute to 25,000 Latvian Jews murdered during the Holocaust at a ceremony near Riga. Berzins is to also attend that ceremony despite previous reports that he had refused to attend.
Israeli officials cited by the Haaretz daily last week speculated that Berzins’s refusal to join Peres at the ceremony was consistent with the Latvian unwillingness to be seen as acknowledging complicity with the Nazi atrocities in their country. The Latvian government has never accepted that its citizens collaborated with the Nazis in wiping out the Latvian Jewish community.
The President’s Residence last week released a statement saying, “There is an important educational message in both presidents attending the memorial ceremony marking the massacre in the killing fields of Rumbula.”
Some 25,000 Jews from the Riga Ghetto were slaughtered by Nazi soldiers in the Rumbula Forest on November 20 and December 8, 1941. When Latvian officials finally allowed a small monument to be erected at the site in 1965, the inscription read (in German, Russian and Yiddish) “To the Victims of Fascism,” and made no reference to the fact that the majority of victims at the site were Jewish.
In Lithuania, which currently serves as temporary president of the European Union, Peres is expected to urge the EU leaders to increase European sanctions on Iran.
According to Army Radio, Peres will also discuss the recently disclosed restriction on EU funding of Israel institutions active in the West Bank.
While in Lithuania, Peres will attend a ceremony in Ponar, where approximately 100,000 people – mostly Jews – were killed during the Holocaust. Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite is also scheduled to take part in the memorial.