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Lithuania's position in UN vote on Palestine's recognition reflects prevailing attitudes in Europe

Mosikuojama Palestinos vėliavomis.
AFP/„Scanpix“ nuotr. / Palestinian flags
Šaltinis: BNS
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The more favorable stance demonstrated by Lithuania on the Palestinian attempt to seek recognition of statehood at the United Nations (UN) is a reflection of the prevailing tendencies in Europe, political experts say. However, fear of angering the United States and Israel keeps Vilnius from showing even firmer support to Palestine.

Lithuania has decided to abstain in the vote at the UN General Assembly on upgrading the diplomatic status for Palestine's authority. In October 2011, Lithuania was among 14 countries that voted against Palestine's membership in the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).

Kęstutis Girnius of the Vilnius University's International Relations and Political Science Institute noted the diminishing number of countries opposing Palestine's steps in the UN. The Czech Republic is listed as the only European nation that could vote against granting the status of "observer state" to Palestine's authority on Thursday.

Sweden, the Czech Republic, and the Netherlands that joined Lithuania in the vote against Palestine's UNESCO membership last year should abstain in Thursday's ballot. France, Spain, Austria, and Denmark have promised to back the proposed resolution.

"When Lithuania voted against last year, I was not persuaded by the argumentation. Palestine is suffering from occupation, and Lithuania, which has been occupied itself, should sympathize more with other nations' freedom aspirations. On the other hand, our relations with Israel are sensitive, therefore, abstention is probably the best position," Girnius told BNS on Thursday.

"I think a neutral stance is the best. It will probably be in line with what EU countries think. The number of those opposing Palestine's aspiration to join the UN is decreasing," he added.

Expert on Middle East Edgūnas Račius, a lecturer at the same institute, said he thought that a large group of Lithuanian politicians and diplomats were rather well-disposed towards the Palestinian state, but categorical stances disapproval of Palestine's moves by the US and Israel keeps Vilnius back from voting in support.

"We understand that the conjuncture is unfavorable, so we do no want to anger the United States or Israel and will, therefore, abstain. It is a rather big step, as voting against shows our slave-like situation and fear of having an opinion," Račius told BNS.

Asked about the attempts to compare the Soviet rule over the Baltic states with the occupation of Palestinian territories by Israel, Račius said the people of Palestine were in greater suffering.

"We lived under the conditions of occupation, but were able to function normally and attend universities, have some sort of careers. Palestinian people can have nothing of that," said Račius.

Observers say that Palestine should win the ballot at the 193-member UN General Assembly on the new status, which would indirectly recognize its statehood.

Israel and the United States plan to vote against, warning that the UN vote would not in any way contribute to the chances of resuming peace talks, which would be needed to end a few decades of the conflict.

Lithuanian political scientists told BNS that it was Israel that was not taking any steps to return to the peace talks by continuing the construction of unlawful settlements in the occupied territories.

"Israel is, as a matter of fact, responsible for the two years of cessation of the negotiations," Girnius told BNS.

He notes that, after signing the so-called Oslo agreements with Palestine in 1990s, Israel has built so many settlements that the number of Israelis living in the Palestinian territories has doubled.

"Israel is making no concessions, it has frozen the peace process and continues the construction of the settlements," said Girnius whose opinion was seconded by Račius.

"The US-Israel tandem is constantly scaring the world and attempting to intimidate states and figures out of making the decisions and moves that would be unfavorable to the US and Israel," he said.

Meanwhile, observers holding a different opinion maintain that the new status for Palestine's authority could encourage extremists.

"Can the observer status help cease fire in the Gaza Strip? Will it help establish the causes behind the conflict? I doubt that. It would rather fuel it by encouraging extremists on both sides and boosting Palestine's confidence by unilateral decisions and increasing the sense of insecurity in Israel," writer Markas Zingeris recently told lrytas.lt news portal.

In his words, "as the majority of the General Assembly consists of post-colonial, observer and Islamic countries, many of which see Israel as a colonialist country and Palestine as a victim, the very existence of Israel in this region would face even bigger challenges."

Lithuania's Jewish Community has declared unreserved support for Israel.

"Without doubt, we would call for a vote against. But it is not us who are forming Lithuania's foreign policy and we cannot demand certain conduct, as we are just part of Lithuania's citizenry. In this case, abstention is better than voting in support. We support any steps Lithuania may take to support Israel," Faina Kukliansky, acting chairwoman of the Lithuanian Jewish Community, told BNS on Thursday.

Lithuania's decision to abstain in the vote was announced on Wednesday by President Dalia Grybauskaitė. She, together with leaders of the other two Baltic states, expressed regret over the fact that the European Union (EU) failed to agree on a common stance on the matter.

"As there is no common position in the EU, which should be forming such positions in a more general manner – as far as we know, about nine countries are in support and the others abstain – Lithuania will abstain in tomorrow's ballot," Grybauskaitė told journalists.

"It probably wouldn't be possible to make comparisons, although we understand the strive for freedom and we support all nations that seek it peacefully," the president said in comment of drawing parallels between Palestine and the Baltic states.

The new status would boost Palestine's chances of joining many other UN agencies and the International Criminal Court.

Last year, the US blocked a resolution to grant fully-fledged membership to Palestine.

BNS
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