In a sharp break with the European Union policy, Lithuania’s foreign minister this week toured the Western Wall in what appears to have been a visit arranged by Israel’s Foreign Ministry.
Linas Linkevicius’s stopover at the Wall is controversial because the international community does not recognize Israel’s annexation of the Old City and East Jerusalem, and foreign dignitaries usually refuse to meet Israeli officials there, lest it be interpreted as tacit approval of Israeli sovereignty.
On Wednesday, two photos were posted to a website operated by the Foreign Ministry showing Linkevicius at the Western Wall. In one image, he poses before the holy site with five Israeli soldiers who appear to belong to the military police. Two of the soldiers are officers at the rank of lieutenant and are holding M16 machine guns. In the second photo, Linkevicius is seen placing a note in the wall.
The photos were taken by Shlomi Amsalem, who works for the Foreign Ministry. Amsalem and the Foreign Ministry refused to comment.
“This is highly unusual and violates our usual code of practice,” a diplomat from a European Union member state said. “We don’t accept Israel’s annexation of East Jerusalem and consider it occupied territory. Our visitors would not have done that.”
As a matter of standard diplomatic procedure, visiting dignitaries usually do not visit the Old City and East Jerusalem in any official capacity. If they want to visit the Western Wall or other sites in this part of the city they do so privately and without being accompanied by Israeli officials.
The Lithuanian embassy in Tel Aviv did not respond to a Times of Israel request for comment.
The Western Wall is located in the Jewish quarter of Jerusalem’s Old City, which Israel captured in during the 1967 Six Day War and officially annexed in 1980. The international community, including the EU, does not accept Israeli sovereignty over the Old City or any of East Jerusalem.
In July, Lithuania will assume the EU’s rotating presidency.
On April 12, Canadian Foreign Minister John Baird caused a diplomatic brouhaha when he visited Israel’s justice minister, Tzipi Livni, in her office on Salah al-Din Street in East Jerusalem.
Although Baird asserted that his meeting didn’t “signal a change in Canadian foreign policy,” Palestinian officials were furious. Baird’s move “may be deemed as aiding, abetting, or otherwise assisting illegal Israeli policies,” protested chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat in a written message to Canada’s representative office.
“As such, Canada’s actions are tantamount to complicity in ongoing Israeli violations of the international laws of war,” Erekat added. “These violations are being (perpetrated) not only against the State of Palestine and the Palestinian people, but against the international community as a whole.”
Linkevicius visited Israel from Sunday until Wednesday and met with senior Israeli leaders, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, President Shimon Peres, Livni, and Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein.
Linkevicius told Peres that Vilnius is a friend of Israel and, “while not taking sides, will support Israel during the country’s tenure as the president of the European Council,” according to a statement released by the President’s Residence. Israel and Lithuania are currently having “the best relations” they had in decades, Linkevicius wrote on his Twitter account, adding that it is “amazing that [the] majority of people I met in Israel are Litvaks.”