Says Israel can count on full Latvian support regarding Quartet demands from PA.
By HERB KEINON
With an internal EU debate under way regarding how to relate to a Palestinian Authority unity government, Israel can count on Latvia's firm support for demanding that the PA live up to the Quartet's three benchmarks for acceptance, Latvian Foreign Minister Artis Pabriks told The Jerusalem Post Wednesday.
Regarding the demands for the PA to recognize Israel, renounce terrorism and accept previous agreements, Pabriks - referring to his country's past with the Soviet Union - said: "How could we, as Latvians with our experience, have negotiations with partners who don't recognize us? How could we have discussions with a neighboring country that is not renouncing violence? Either you talk or you fight."
Pabriks, who wraps up a two-day visit to Israel on Thursday, the first ever by a Latvian foreign minister, met with Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and Vice Premier Shimon Peres. He said it was self-evident that international obligations must be honored.
Pabriks said his visit was meant to give him a first-hand look at the region to give him a better understanding of the issues discussed each month at the meeting of the 27 EU foreign ministers in Brussels.
"If we are to be engaged," he said, "then we have to be as professional as possible, and you cannot be professional without coming to Jerusalem."
Pabriks said Latvia was silent on these issues when it joined the EU three years ago, but "now we are getting more and more vocal. I think now our influence is growing. Our opinion is now asked in Brussels.
"In 2003 [a year before Latvia joined the EU], what Latvia thought about the Middle East was not important to anyone."
Diplomatic officials in Jerusalem said the former Soviet-bloc countries that joined the EU in 2004 were gaining more confidence and were beginning to take more of a say in the internal EU deliberations on a wide range of issues, including the Middle East. And for the most part, they said, these countries - Hungary, Poland, Estonia, Lithuania, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Slovenia and Latvia - have a favorable orientation toward Israel.
Pabriks, a former archeologist, was one of the world's first foreign ministers to see the excavations at the Mughrabi Gate in Jerusalem. If asked about the matter at the next EU foreign ministers meeting in Brussels in March, he said he would say he does not think the work being done there posed any danger to the Temple Mount. "At this moment, I don't see a problem from an archeological point of view," he said.
Pabriks said his visit was also aimed at energizing Israeli-Latvian bilateral ties, including increasing trade - which according to Latvian officials stands at approximately $40 million annually - and tourism.
One of the bilateral issues that Livni brought up was the restitution to Jews of pre-Holocaust communal Jewish property in Latvia. While restitution has been paid to individual Jews for property confiscated lost during World War II, the Latvians have been far less forthcoming regarding communal property, Israeli officials said.
Pabriks said this was "a very difficult case" because a number of other communities - such as the Poles - also have communal property restitution claims, and the Latvian fear is that this would "open up a Pandora's box."
Despite the complications, Livni pressed the Latvian government to come up with a solution.
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