Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has set on a trip to the Baltic states – Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia – in a bid to "balance" what he calls “unfriendly” ties with the European Union, as the bloc continues to chastise Tel Aviv’s settlement activities.
Speaking to reporters at the onset of his three-day trip to Lithuania, Netanyahu said Thursday that expanding ties with eastern European countries helps Tel Aviv get better treatment in Brussels.
"Of course, we are interested in closer economic and diplomatic ties with these countries," Netanyahu said.
"I am also interested in balancing the not always friendly attitude of the European Union towards Israel so that we receive fairer and more genuine treatment,” he added.
The criticism continued as the Israeli PM met his Lithuanian counterpart, Saulius Skvernelis.
"Israel is often mistreated by the EU in Brussels, there are many distortions that are leveled at us, and it is refreshing to see that you take a stand of clarity, of truth and of courage, and we discussed how that can be expanded," Netanyahu told Skvernelis.
On Wednesday, Israel approved plans for the construction of more than 1,000 new settler units in the occupied West Bank, a decision that ran against international law and a United Nations Security Council resolution against the Tel Aviv regime’s land grab policies in the occupied Palestinian territories.
The new settlement plan drew fire from the EU, with its spokeswoman Maja Kocijancic saying the bloc was "strongly opposed" to Israel's "illegal" settlements program, calling it "an obstacle to peace."
Within past two weeks Israeli authorities have advanced plans and tenders for over 2000 settlement units in #WestBank including East Jerusalem. If implemented these plans would further jeopardise prospect of a contiguous and viable future Palestinian state https://t.co/udgAGSLIYK— Maja Kocijančič (@MajaEUspox) August 23, 2018
"If implemented, these plans would further jeopardize the prospect of a contiguous and viable future Palestinian state," Kocijancic said Thursday, calling on Israel to stop the settlement activities and seek a negotiated two-state solution with Palestine.
Before boarding his plane for the trip, a first by an Israeli PM, Netanyahu said he wanted "to achieve a balance in the European Union's not always friendly relations with Israel."
Netanyahu will also meet with Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskait, Latvian Prime Minister Mris Kučinskis and Estonian Prime Minister Jüri Ratas in Vilnius during his tour of the Baltic states.
Pro-Palestinian activists confront Netanyahu
During Netanyahu’s meetings with Lithuanian officials, dozens of pro-Palestinian activists gathered outside government buildings and chanted that Netanyahu was "not welcome" while waving Palestinian flags.
They also denounced Lithuanian leaders for establishing warm ties with the Israeli regime despite international condemnation of its crimes against Palestinians.
Less than a month before US President Donald Trump took office in January 2017, the UN Security Council adopted Resolution 2334, calling on Israel to “immediately and completely cease all settlement activities in the occupied Palestinian territories, including East Jerusalem” al-Quds.
Since the inauguration of President Trump, the regime in Tel Aviv has stepped up its construction of settler units on occupied Palestinian land in a blatant violation of international law.
About 600,000 Israelis live in over 230 illegal settlements built since the 1967 Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories of the West Bank and East Jerusalem al-Quds.