Latvian FM: Anti-Israel resolutions don’t advance peace

Visiting Jerusalem, Edgars Rinkēvičs hails Riga’s ‘balanced position’ on Mideast, criticizes Israel’s use of lethal force during Gaza riots

Raphael Ahren is a former diplomatic correspondent at The Times of Israel.

Latvian FM Edgars Rinkēvičs, right, with PM Netanyahu, in Jerusalem, June 2018 (Twitter)
Latvian FM Edgars Rinkēvičs, right, with PM Netanyahu, in Jerusalem, June 2018 (Twitter)

Anti-Israel resolutions at the United Nations and other international bodies do very little to advance a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the foreign minister of Latvia said last week during a visit to Israel.

In an interview with The Times of Israel, Edgars Rinkēvičs also criticized the Jewish state’s “disproportionate” response to recent protests at the Gaza border, though he stressed that Israel had the right to defend itself.

“Over the years there have been many resolutions at the [UN] General Assembly condemning Israel, calling for the [resumption of the] peace process. But I haven’t seen how those resolutions have helped the overall peace process,” Rinkēvičs said.

“I don’t believe that resolutions can substitute a peace process, direct negotiations with the participation of all the relevant actors,” he added. “Those are very nice documents that we take, of course, seriously, but we don’t believe that this approach really helps the process itself.”

On June 1, the UN Security Council voted on a resolution calling for “measures to guarantee the safety and protection” of Palestinians in the Gaza Strip and West Bank, and proposing an “international protection mechanism” for them.

Permanent Observer of Palestine to the United Nations Riyad Mansour, center, attends the UN Security Council emergency session on Israel-Gaza conflict at United Nations headquarters on May 30, 2018 in New York City. (Eduardo Munoz Alvarez/Getty Images/AFP)

Ten countries, including China, France and Russia, voted in favor of the draft, proposed by Kuwait, but it failed to pass due to an American veto.

This coming Wednesday, the Kuwaiti text is set to be voted on again at the General Assembly, where it is expected to pass with a large majority.

Since March 30, some 110 Palestinians have been killed in mass protests along the Gaza border and thousands wounded by Israeli military fire. Dozens of the fatalities were members of terror groups, Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad have acknowledged. Israel says its troops were defending its border and accuses Hamas of trying to carry out attacks under the cover of the protests.

On international matters such as Israel/Palestine, Latvia, a member of the European Union, is committed to adhering to EU consensus, according to Rinkēvičs.

Whenever such consensus is elusive, Riga will take a “balanced position,” he said, citing abstentions on the UN General Assembly’s November 2012 vote to give Palestine “nonmember state” status and the December 2017 GA vote condemning the US recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

Latvia does not intend to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, but is also not thinking about recognizing a Palestinian state at this point, Rinkēvičs said. “We want to see a balanced approach,” he said.

Rinkēvičs, who has been the Baltic state’s foreign minister since 2011, was critical of the Israeli army’s means to prevent Palestinians from breaching the Gaza border during recent weeks’ so-called March of Return.

“I didn’t particularly like the way the use of force was used recently in Gaza. But I also very well understand how those protests were instigated,” he said, speaking in English. “We believe that non-lethal use of force by police protecting borders in democracies is the most preferred matter. We have seen attempts to instigate protests in a way that is unacceptable to us.”

When innocents are dying, a mechanism must be put in place to establish the facts and find ways to avoid similar incidents in the future, Rinkēvičs said.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who met with Rinkēvičs on Thursday evening, said last week that Israel tried nonlethal means of crowd dispersal, but that none proved effective.

“Because we tried water guns, we tried the tear gas, we tried all sorts of other devices and none of those worked against this kind of tactic,” he said during an event at the Policy Exchange think tank in London.

“When I talk to the European leaders I will say, ‘Okay, what would you do? Can you deal us some technology? I’d like to know if you have the ability to do this because we’d gladly use this,’” Netanyahu said.

Illustrative image of a Palestinian protester at a demonstration along the border between Israel and the Gaza Strip, east of Gaza City, on May 25, 2018. (AFP/Mohammed Abed)

In a similar situation, Latvia would try its utmost to protect its borders and the security of its citizens, Rinkēvičs said, “but we would also be having a very strong policy that all non-lethal means by police or border authorities should be explored. And the use of lethal weapons, according to our laws, is possible only if there are weapons used by the other side or other justifiable circumstances.”

He said no one had any illusions about Hamas, and that the group’s methods were unacceptable. “We are not justifying what Hamas is doing,” he said, and Israel has a “legitimate right” to defend itself, though it must do so with “proportional use of force, especially against children and women.”

“We are not taking sides, one or the other,” Said Rinkēvičs. “We are trying to be as helpful as possible, because we understand arguments from both sides.”

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