European anger over supposed Israeli misuse of passports to kill Mahmoud al-Mabhouh in Dubai on January 19 played a “certain role” in shifting EU votes on the Goldstone Report in the UN General Assembly last week, visiting Slovak Foreign Minister Miroslav Lajcak told The Jerusalem Post on Wednesday.

The Slovak Republic, considered in Jerusalem one of Israel’s best friends in the EU, originally voted – along with six other EU countries – alongside Israel against endorsing the Goldstone Commission report at the General Assembly in November.

In a second vote on the matter on Friday, however, all seven EU countries abstained, and another 10 countries that had abstained in the November vote – including Britain, France, Sweden, Belgium and Finland – voted in favor of an Arab resolution to keep the issue alive.

After saying that the change of votes was due in part to the EU’s desire to appear to speak in a less fragmented voice on the issue, and that the recent resolution was softer than the November one, Lajcak added, “Don’t take this as any official position, but I also think the European public opinion has been affected by the killing in Dubai, not in favor of Israel, [and this] probably played a certain role in the shifting of policy in certain countries.”

Lajcak – who was present in the debate in Brussels last Monday following which the EU issued a statement condemning the killing, but stopped short of blaming Israel – said, “I would be hypocritical if I said this [the passport issue] had no impact whatsoever” on the vote in the UN.

No country “is immune to its public opinion,” he said.

Asked how much this issue was hurting Israel in European public opinion, Lajcak said the issue was “quite big.” Stolen identities, he said, were “something that Europe is very sensitive to.”Also, he said, “Europe is based on respect of values and principles of rule of law, and extrajudicial killings is something we show no tolerance for, regardless of where they come from.”

Reminded that Mabhouh had been an arch-terrorist with Israeli blood on his hands and had been behind smuggling weapons into Gaza designed to kill even more Israelis, Lajcak said it was necessary to view the issue from a European perspective.

“You are [an] innocent, ordinary European citizen, and you travel as a tourist, and all of a sudden you are arrested because someone has stolen your identity and used it for something bad, something unlawful – this is how Europeans look at it,” he explained. “They [European citizens] want to make sure their identities and passports are protected, and they will not be in a position where they will have to bear responsibility for someone else’s actions.”

Lajcak, who arrived late Tuesday night for two days of meetings, said the issue had not come up during his meetings on Wednesday with President Shimon Peres or Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, though it is believed to have been raised in his meeting with Intelligence Agencies Minister Dan Meridor. Lajcak also met with Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman.

Lajcak said the Goldstone Report was expected to be discussed by the 27 EU foreign ministers at an informal meeting to be held over the weekend in Cordoba.

On other matters, Lajcak downplayed an idea floated recently by French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner and his Spanish counterpart, Miguel Moratinos, for the EU to recognize a Palestinian state even before an agreement on borders was reached with Israel.

The idea, he said, could not yet be considered “serious,” because it had not been formally presented or discussed in any European forum.

“I cannot exclude that it might come up in Cordoba, just to test the reaction of the EU members, but for the time being, it is not any more than an individual opinion,” he said.

Taking issue with the idea, Lajcak – who said he had played the role of “peacemaker” in his previous capacity as the EU’s high representative for Bosnia and Herzegovina – said “we should not try to impose solutions on actors.”

Drawing on his experience in the Balkans, Lajcak said he was always “very reluctant to see someone coming from the side” and promoting various ideas and proposals.

“You have to be on the ground, feel the dynamics,” he said. “You have to understand what is possible and achievable at a given time.”

Regarding Iran and whether he supported sanctions aimed at Teheran’s energy sector, the Slovak foreign minister said that sanctions – including energy sanctions – were being widely discussed at the EU level. But, he said, it would be “premature” to discuss what kind of options the EU would be willing to clamp on Iran outside of the UN framework.

“The fact is that Europe is very much united on understanding that this [Iran’s] behavior must be stopped,” he said. “Every country must respect the UN system and resolutions, and every country must cooperate with the International Atomic Energy Agency. If one is not doing that, we must not sit idle.”  

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