We should not sit on two chairs, we must clearly choose our partners – Israel and the USA, conservative MP Žygimantas Pavilionis stated upon the Foreign Ministry declaring that it could consider the opening of a Palestinian representation in Vilnius. Nevertheless, other MPs contacted by lrt.lt, this question appears worth attention, same as a complete opposite – the Lithuanian embassy in Israel being moved to Jerusalem. But could these musings lead anywhere?
With Palestianian officials speaking of intentions to establish a representation in Vilnius, the Lithuanian Foreign Ministry (URM) declared it would consider the possibility to accept it. Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyad al-Maliki expects to discuss this with Lithuanian Prime Minister Saulius Skvernelis during a visit in Palestine on June 18-20.
Lithuania has not recognised the State of Palestine, thus the Palestinian representation would officially be of a lower rank than an embassy and would be called a bureau of Palestinian – Lithuanian relations. Our country has established an analogous representation – the Bureau of Lithuanian relations with Palestine – in Ramallah already.
Reacting to the URM statement that the possibility of a Palestinian representation could be considered, Seimas Foreign Affairs Committee member Ž. Pavilionis of the conservatives declared on the LRT Radio show Aktualijų Studija that we should not sit on two chairs, but clearly choose strategic partners – the US and Israel.
"We overall have very few resources compared to other diplomacies. And if we begin sitting on two chairs, especially when one of the chairs directly works with Iran and Russia, we will simply be left on the ground.
Normal countries, which had such a history [as yours] clearly choose, who their strategic partners are. For example, Poland has long maintained a very pro-American and pro-Israeli policy and obtains great returns because Israel is also a frontline country, which guards itself from various autocracies, which seek to destroy it from dusk to dawn," Ž. Pavilionis explained.
Clear definition of the representation's status needed
However, other politicians representing various Seimas groups were less categorical when talking to lrt.lt.
According to Egidijus Vareikis of the "Farmers", Seimas Foreign Affairs Committee deputy chairman, the decision to allow or prohibit the establishment of a Palestinian representation in Vilnius would greatly depend on what the representation would do and how it would represent Palestinian affairs.
"We have not made the decision to recognise Palestinian statehood. If the Palestinians believe that the establishment of a representation would mean recognition of the Palestinian state, it will not be happening today. As for a different status... I have always been in favour of Lithuania being more active and mediating in the pursuit of diplomatic solutions. [...] If Lithuania took up certain diplomatic mediating steps, then the representation could certainly be established under a clearly defined status," E. Vareikis believes.
Liberal MP Aušrinė Armonaitė states that the establishment of a Palestinian representation in Vilnius would likely harm no one.
"The situation in the Middle East is perennially sensitive. We have a long-standing friendship with Israel, but on the other hand, we must be open to all parties. Palestine could also have a representation, but it would of course not be an embassy, but a diplomatic representation of a different rank. I believe that it would harm no one and would perhaps instead only increase dialogue," A. Armonaitė says.
Not the best time to open representations
"But it is always necessary to review existing details, primarily – Lithuanian interests. Thus we can consider it, but it is unlikely whether we could make a decision," the politician states.
"I believe that relations between Israel and Palestine have significantly deteriorated. I do not believe that this is the best time to open representations abroad," G. Kirkilas adds.
Palestine has representations of a rank below embassy in both the USA and the major Western European countries. Meanwhile in for example the aforementioned Poland, there is an embassy because Poland recognised Palestinian statehood already in 1988 while it was still in the Eastern Bloc. In total 140 countries have recognised Palestine (differing sources have varying numbers). Mostly African, Asian and South American states have done so.
The only EU member, which recognised Palestine while already being a member of the union, is Sweden (2014). Bulgaria, Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Malta and Romania had already recognised Palestinian statehood before their accession to the EU. Nevertheless, most EU member states, North American states and Australia have not made this step. They recognise the Palestinian claim to statehood, but maintain the position that a Palestinian state can only appear based on a decision reached in Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. Most EU member states also maintain the attitude that Israel and Palestine have to come to agreement on the status of Jerusalem themselves and do not recognise the city as Israel's capital.
Want Lithuania to move its embassy to Jerusalem
Lithuania has been among Israel's firmest supporters in Europe for the past decade, usually not backing Palestinian initiatives to obtain recognition in international organisations. For example in 2011, Lithuania did not back Palestine's bid for UNESCO membership, being one of just 14 states to express this position. Israel and the USA strongly opposed Palestinian entry then. Other than Lithuania, among EU member states, the Czech Republic, Sweden, Germany and the Netherlands also voted against.
Political analysts usually specify the history of Lithuanian Jews and the pursuit of US favour as the basis of such a Lithuanian stance.
However, last year Lithuania voted in favour of a UN resolution, which described the US decision to recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel as illegal. State representatives also did not participate in the opening of the US embassy in Jerusalem in mid-May.
Nevertheless, certain members of the Homeland Union – Lithuanian Christian Democrats would like Lithuania to follow the US' example – they have called upon the minister of foreign affairs and Seimas Foreign Affairs Committee regarding a potential move of the Lithuanian embassy to Jerusalem.
"Will deliberations and discussion begin in Lithuania over the move of our country's embassy to Israel's historical capital Jerusalem, thus expressing solidarity to the state of Israel and the USA? Could Lithuania initiate a discussion in EU formats over European state embassies' transfer to Jerusalem?" their appeal inquires.
"Jerusalem is the historical capital of the Jews, thus the transfer of diplomatic representations re-establishes historical justice. Israel is the only democratic state in the region and a faithful ally of Western countries," conservative Laurynas Kaščiūnas explained in the appeal.
Proposes to ask Lithuanian citizens
According to E. Vareikis and A. Armonaitė, the Foreign Affairs Committee has not discussed this question.
"The committee has not discussed this, but I know that such an initiative has appeared. We must consider those matters and evaluate them in a broader context – not only that of relations with Israel, but also relations with our partners in the West. EU member states are currently in no rush to do so [transfer their embassies]," A. Armonaitė says.
E. Vareikis believes that deliberations on embassy transfer to Jerusalem could be meaningful, but it is necessary to inquire the opinion of the Lithuanian citizenry.
"Lithuania is without a doubt an ally of the US, but we must also consider the opinions of EU member states, the EU is split in this case. Since the embassy represents Lithuanian interests, then I would first of all inquire, what the public opinion in Lithuania itself is. To me personally, Israeli policy is often an example of how we should also act, Israel and the US are countries, which I favour," E. Vareikis told lrt.lt.
G. Kirkilas agreed that this question could be considered, but the position of the EU must be kept in mind: "Lithuania's situation is always influenced by various factors, primarily our security interests, relations within the EU and NATO, etc."
He also emphasised that the USA is not pressuring Lithuania to follow its example: "They understand our circumstances well. Other countries such as Guatemala, which recently opened [an embassy in Jerusalem] are almost 100% dependent on US aid and they act differently. Our situation is different, we should certainly not rush."
Foreign Minister Linas Linkevičius told media after the opening of the US embassy in Jerusalem that Lithuania views Jerusalem as the future capital of both countries. "Overall everything must be the result of negotiations because we see how sensitive it is. And we have stated earlier that unilateral decisions could worsen the overall situation and discussion climate. As we can see, that's what has happened," L. Linkevičius spoke.
During the opening of the US embassy in Jerusalem, mass Palestinian protests occurred, as well as clashes with Israeli troops on the Gaza Strip border. On that day, based on data from the Gaza Strip Ministry of Healthcare, 60 Palestinians died. The protests at the border were not peaceful – Palestinians threw rocks and Molotov cocktails at the Israeli troops. Furthermore, for the past two months, Hamas has intensified rocket attacks from the Gaza Strip, while Israeli troops have responded with attacks of their own.
Stance should not change
Vytautas Magnus University Political Science and Diplomacy Department dean Šarūnas Liekis describes Lithuania's current stance on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as a balanced waiting position and support to international law. According to him, such policy should continue.
He emphasises that Lithuania must seek to uphold the principle of multilateralism in international relations.
"Unilaterality is inherently dangerous to a small state like Lithuania because Lithuanian security is guaranteed by multilateralism – both participation in international organisations and multilateral formats," Š. Liekis states.
Meanwhile in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, according to the expert, there are no premises for improvement: "Especially when various international actors' unilateral actions in the region are dominant it is very difficult to expect constructive problem solving. Quite likely we will not see any resolution to the problem in the near future."