Latvian FM decries ‘disproportionate’ response to Gaza riots

However, he also added that Israel is "responding in a proportionate way" to missile attacks.

Latvia's Foreign Minister Edgars Rinkevics speaks during an interview in Riga, Latvia May 23, 2018. Picture taken May 23, 2018 (photo credit: REUTERS/INTS KALNINS)
Latvia's Foreign Minister Edgars Rinkevics speaks during an interview in Riga, Latvia May 23, 2018. Picture taken May 23, 2018
(photo credit: REUTERS/INTS KALNINS)
Israel responded proportionally to recent missile attacks from the Gaza Strip but not in dealing with the rioting along the Gaza fence, Latvian Foreign Minister Edgars Rinkevics told The Jerusalem Post on Thursday.
Rinkevics, who arrived early Thursday morning for a two-day visit to Israel and the Palestinian Authority, said that in his country’s opinion, the use of Israeli force “on the Gaza issue” has been “disproportionate, and we call for a more proportionate use of force.”
He added that “We are not turning a blind eye to how those attacks [the Gaza riots] were instigated.”
Asked what in his mind would be a proportionate response to a rocket falling on the courtyard of a kindergarten, as happened last week and was one of the triggers to an intensive IDF pounding of Hamas and Islamic Jihad positions in Gaza, Rinkevics said, “I am not discussing missiles – I think those are absolutely issues where Israel is responding in a proportionate way.”
Rather, he said, the “disproportionality” happened on May 14, the day when the US Embassy moved to Jerusalem and 61 Palestinians were killed in riots along the Gaza fence.
"How would Latvia respond if 40,000 people, from wherever, were on your border, wanting to come in, and saying they want to kill you? What would you do?” he was asked.
“Well, I would say that we would be doing our best to protect our borders, and doing our best to push back as much as we can,” he said. “We would advise the police force not to use guns.”
Rinkevics stressed, however, that he understands that there was a deliberate attempt “to push people, to push innocent children” into the activity along the border fence.
Pressed again how the EU, which was critical of Israel’s handling of the situation, recommended that Israel act, he said that perhaps this type of violence “would be averted if we could somehow get to the table.”
The Latvian foreign minister, who has been in his job for six-and-a-half years, said that the EU is pushing the Palestinians “rather hard” to return to the negotiations, and is trying to dispel the Palestinian hope that there can be a peace process without US leadership and intense involvement.
Rinkevics, who held talks in Ramallah on Thursday afternoon, dismissed the Palestinian demand that the EU take over the lead in the peace process.
“Let’s be realistic, no peace process can be achieved without the US being an active partner. The EU cannot stop it, it can facilitate,” he said.
“The EU has its role,” he said, "but we are not going to say that this type of situation – without talks, and with one party all the time rejecting all the proposals – is going to last. I can’t support that.”
Latvia was one of only six of the 28 EU countries who abstained in the December resolution in the UN General Assembly slamming the US for moving its embassy to Jerusalem. Riga, in general, has one of the more positive voting records toward Israel among the EU states.
Despite the vote, Rinkevics said his country has no intention of moving its embassy to Jerusalem, and did not abstain because it thought moving the US Embassy was a particularly good idea. He said Latvia’s position – in common with other EU countries – is that moving embassies to Jerusalem is premature, and that first there must be “meaningful talks,” agreement on the issue of Jerusalem, and the implementation of a two-state solution.
“Our goal in abstaining in December was not to ruin the EU consensus, there was no consensus at this time,” he said, noting there is often not a consensus among EU countries when it comes to the Middle East.
Latvia abstained, he said, “because we have found that a difficult situation like the peace process has not been resolved by General Assembly resolutions.”
Furthermore, he said, putting pressure on the US by way of a condemnation at the General Assembly “is not a rational approach. We thought that it would not help, will not help, and did not help the overall situation. That is why we abstained.”
Rinkevics said there was not a “transactional” arrangement in the vote, and that Latvia neither expected anything from the US as a result of the vote, nor has it received anything in return.