Lithuanian FM: Heed settlement goods label issue

Linas Linkevicius tells 'Post' Israel risks facing boycott of all Israeli goods by European countries.

Lithuanian FM and Bibi370 (photo credit: Amos Ben Gershom GPO)
Lithuanian FM and Bibi370
(photo credit: Amos Ben Gershom GPO)
If products grown or manufactured in settlements are not properly labeled as such, it could spark moves in some European countries to boycott all Israeli goods, Lithuanian Foreign Minister Linas Linkevicius told The Jerusalem Post on Tuesday.
“You should take it [the settlement labeling issue] seriously,” said Linkevicius, whose country will take over the rotating presidency of the European Union in July.
“I know the mood in some countries is that if you don’t change the market practice, you could lead to a boycott of all [Israeli] goods. You should take this into account,” he said.
Linkevicius, who arrived Sunday for a four-day visit, said the EU fully backed US Secretary of State John Kerry’s current efforts to get Israel and the Palestinian Authority back to the negotiating table.
Kerry, who is scheduled to arrive for a two-day visit on Thursday, has not asked anything in particular from the EU in moving his initiative forward, the foreign minister said.
Speaking to the Post just prior to meeting Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, Linkevicius denied reports that Kerry had asked the EU to postpone moving forward on the settlement labeling issue to provide him with “more space” in efforts to bring Israel and the Palestinian Authority back to the negotiating table.
Asked whether Kerry requested that the EU hold up on this issue, Linkevicius said “it was not discussed in the EU.” He said the issue may come up at a meeting of EU foreign ministers this weekend.
“You know the EU position on settlements,” said Linkevicius.
“We do not think they are legal, we do not think they are helpful.”
Linkevicius, whose country is considered among the more supportive countries of Israel inside the EU, said bluntly that the advancement of the EU-Israel dialogue depends directly on progress in the Middle East diplomatic process.
While there are “positive steps” in the EU-Israel relationship, such as the recent Open Skies aviation agreement, “that is not enough,” he said.
Linkevicius said that the situation in Syria was one of the focuses of his talks here.
The international community’s steps toward Syria should be “responsible, informed, and based on reliable information, which is why we are consulting in the region with those who have knowledge and insight,” he said. “For me it was informative and interesting to discuss those issues with your officials.”
Linkevicius, a former Lithuanian defense minister who has also served as his country’s envoy to NATO, said concern about the situation in Syria is the reason why NATO allies and EU countries want to see a Turkish-Israeli reconciliation.
“This relationship was strategically important for your country and the region,” he said, adding that both Jerusalem and Ankara should “apply more efforts” to bring about a reconciliation. “All of NATO would like to have a real improvement in your relationship.”
The foreign minister did not answer directly when asked whether Turkey had withdrawn its objections to Israeli participation in various NATO consultations and exercises as a result of Netanyahu’s apology to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in March for the Mavi Marmara incident.
Asked what he thought Israel still needed to do regarding Turkey, he said “be ready for compromises, take into account the whole picture – which is really more rich and important – not just for your two countries but for the region itself. Especially when we have a very difficult time in the region.”
The EU is investing a lot of time and energy discussing what it can, and cannot do in Syria, he said.
“Neighboring countries, especially potentially like minded countries who we believe have common values, simply should be on board,” he said. “Otherwise it complicates the overall situation.”
Linkevicius’s comments echoed explanations Israeli officials gave two months ago, explaining US President Barack Obama’s keen interest in brokering Netanyahu’s apology to Erdogan: that the United States wanted Israel and Turkey to be in the same room and cooperate when Syria was being discussed.
Regarding Syria’s chemical weapons arsenal, Linkevicius said the country has five chemical plants producing “several hundred thousands of tons” of chemical material that are stored in 25 storage sites.
Asked why he thought Russia continued to stand behind Syrian President Bashar Assad’s regime, Linkevicius – whose country has a historically fraught relationship with Russia – said, “They are world players. They would like to hold some leverage. It is always like that, not just now.
They also have national interests, economic interests. This is clear, but it should not be done at the expense of other interests.”
The Lithuanian minister, who took over his current post in December, said that later this year his country will commemorate 70 years since the liquidation of the Vilna ghetto.
Among the planned events will be the Fourth World Litvak Congress to bring together Jewish descendents of the so called “Litvak” lands, which include Lithuania, Belarus, Ukraine and northeastern Poland.
Linkevicius said that he was struck during his visit in Israel, which included meetings with senior officials, politicians, and journalists, how many of them were “Litvaks.”
Despite cultural and climatic differences, Linkevicius said he found a “like-mindedness” on many issues in Israel, which he attributed to the prevalence of so many “Litvaks.”
“It is really something very amazing,” he said.
“We have 700 years of common history,” he said. “Before the war [World War II] there were more than 200,000 Jews living in Lithuania. Unfortunately, almost all of them were killed, which is a tragedy not only for your nation but also for Lithuania. Because it was part of our face, part of our culture, heritage and history.”
Linkevicius said that he was “ashamed to say, but it is true” that there were Lithuanian collaborators who took part in the murder of the Jews.
“It was long ago, but nevertheless it is a fact. It should be studied, looked into, and included in [Lithuanian] educational programs,” he said.
“My point is to study the past – not forget, not forgive – but at the same time go from darkness to light. It is time to look ahead – a new generation is coming, and we have a likeminded approach to many issues.”
Linkevicius noted with clear satisfaction that since Lithuania passed a law in 2011 allowing “Litvaks” and three generations of their descendants to apply for citizenship, some 4,000 Israelis have been issued with Lithuanian passports.