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Bill in support of Israel's military operation comes on the heels of the UN ceasefire vote

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Jerusalem. Source: Robert Bye/Unsplash

Estonia voted "yes" to an urgent humanitarian ceasefire in Gaza on December 12, and the day after the Foreign Affairs Committee put forward a bill in support of Israel's military operations, with no mention of a ceasefire. The bill passed with 78 votes in favor and zero against.

Estonia's Foreign Affairs Committee on December 13 drafted a bill "In Support of the People and State of Israel," stating in its memorandum that Estonia needs to see things in a broader security context: "Israel is on the side of the free world – is objectively an ally of Estonia."

The draft states that the Riigikogu "hopes Israel will achieve rapid progress in its military activities," no reference to a ceasefire.

This is unexpected as Estonia voted "yes" to the emergency appeal in a rare break with the United States.

The non-binding resolution passed with 153 votes in favor, 10 against and 23 abstentions on December 12.

Estonia joined a significant majority of 18 EU member states (eight of which also co-sponsored the resolution) after the two UN chiefs detailed "catastrophic" human rights violations in Gaza in their letters to heads of delegations before the vote.

Eight EU countries abstained and two voted against the non-binding UN resolution.

The Estonian foreign affairs committee submitted the draft, signed by 65 MPs, at the speed of light after the UN vote.

Eerik-Niiles Kross (Reform), a member of the committee and the head of the Estonia-Israel parliamentary friendship group, told ERR News that with the bill "the parliament intends to express its position that while it is not binding to the government, just as the [UN General Assembly] resolution is not binding, it could be taken into account in future votes on this issue."

The text does not mention the demand for an immediate ceasefire and makes no reference to what might come after the war. It expresses no political will to work toward a possible resolution, leaving it essentially up to Israel to "achieve its goals."

Eerik-Niiles Kross Autor/allikas: ERR

The authors of the draft said that the text leaves that space open.

"The bill refers to the agreements on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which leave the way open for a two-state solution," Kross said when asked whether the committee had discussed this.

"Moreover, the final paragraph of the bill refers verbatim to the internationally stated way to find a solution to the conflict," he said.

[The parliament] hopes that Israel's military self-defense actions against Hamas will achieve the goal it has repeatedly committed itself to in international treaties: the creation of an environment free of pressure, repression, and violence for peace negotiations between the legitimate representatives of the State of Israel and the Palestinian people.

The Gaza Strip situation, which received little public attention in Estonia before the Hamas attack on Israel, is now eclipsed by a closer-to-home conflict – Russia's war of aggression in Ukraine.

Estonia has prioritized human rights violations in Ukraine, called for the condemnation of Russia's war of aggression and the establishment of the special international tribunal. At the same time it has not taken no position on Gaza, other than this bill.

In the draft text, the Riigikogu expresses hopes for the State of Israel, but does not mention other peoples:

[The parliament] hopes that Israel will achieve rapid progress in its military and anti-terrorist activities in the Gaza Strip,

[and] notes that it is of the utmost importance for the future of Israel and peace in the region to avoid civilian casualties in the ongoing operations and to comply with general international humanitarian law.

In the above, the Riigikogu has put down that it is important to avoid Palestinian civilian casualties for the sake of Israel's future, and that that is the reason to comply with international humanitarian law.

The human rights perspective is not a concern of this draft.

It does not give a position of Estonia's foreign policy on the unfolding humanitarian catastrophe in Gaza "with potentially irreversible implications for the Palestinians as a whole." The UN statistics are here.


Marko Mihkelson's grand strategy

Is the bill in support of Israel, proposed by the Estonian foreign affairs committee a mere gesture of friendship? The explanatory memorandum makes it clear that the bill is motivated by a grand national security strategy:

"Estonia needs to assess what is happening in the wider security policy context.

The attack on Israel at the time of Russia's war of aggression against Ukraine places this war in a broader context of confrontation between the anti-democratic autocratic bloc and the free world.

In this confrontation, Israel is on the side of the free world, is objectively an ally of Estonia, and needs more explicit support.

The present declaration fulfills this role."

The wider security policy is outlined in Mihkelson's "Israel – a new front in a world-altering war."

He writes, "Unfortunately, the elimination of Hamas can only be achieved through air and ground attacks, which also means suffering for the innocent," and elaborates on the bigger picture of the "new world order," the role of the "axis of evil," and the "global south."

"The inevitable question arises as to whether the West, led by the United States, still has a chance to emerge as the winner in this world-changing chain of wars. Everyone wants to be on the winning side," he writes.

"Both on the fronts of Ukraine and Israel, the West simply cannot and must not lose," Mihkelson concludes.

The note also states that the bill is necessary to combat the "information war" against Israel.

"Since the beginning of the war, the information campaign against Israel by Hamas, Iran, Russia, and other autocratic regimes has intensified," it states. It does not specify what information it is, but during the General Assembly Israel asked to disregard the death toll of Palestinian civilians because it "comes from Hamas."

The bill's memo says that "Anti-Semitic demonstrations have taken place across Europe. Also, Estonia has seen a demonstration using slogans calling for the destruction of the State of Israel."

Here, here, and here are the records of the two demonstrations of solidarity with Palestinians that took place in Estonia, five people were detained and fined for using the prohibited slogan during the first demonstration, the second was initially banned without justification. The Estonian Human Rights Center has decided to turn to court to defend freedom of expression in the aftermath of what happened.

Riigikogu Foreign Affairs Committee Chair Marko Mihkelson (Reform). Source: Riigikogu Press Service/Erik Peinar

The UN General Assembly: Impunity and indifference

Mathu Joyini, South Africa's ambassador to the UN, during the explanations of vote before the vote, said that "the system that is needed should not be the tool for the most powerful countries in the world but one that provides protection for the most vulnerable."

"We cannot proclaim the importance of international organizations only in some situations and not in others. We have all signed the charter," she emphasized.

Israel's ambassador to the UN, Gilad Erdan, criticized the Member States for not being fully honest: "What would your countries do if you were in Israel's shoes, call for a ceasefire? What would Moscow do? Beijing? Istanbul? How would you respond? Everyone here knows exactly."

Erdan blamed the UN institutions: "The only reason more humanitarian aid is not entering Gaza, is because the UN bodies refuse to solve logistical problems."

The UN itself is becoming "a moral stain on humanity," he said.

"If this resolution's true intent would be to aid, it would be focused on improving logistical capabilities [to help on the ground] not on the ceasefire."

Philippe Lazzarini, the head of UNWRA, wrote a letter to the General Assembly detailing the circumstances under which UN staff on the ground is aiding Israel in its full-scale military operation.

"UNRWA is, as of today, still operational in Gaza, though just barely. Our staff are still operating health centers, managing shelters, and supporting traumatized people, some arriving carrying their dead children.

/.../ Our staff take their children to work so they know they are safe or can die together. More than 130 UNRWA staff are confirmed killed in bombardments, most with their families; the number might rise by the time you read this [on December 18, the number grew to 136]. At least 70 percent of UNRWA staff are displaced, and lack food, water and adequate shelter. We are hanging on by our fingertips. If UNRWA collapses, humanitarian assistance in Gaza will also collapse.

/…/ In my 35 years working in complex emergencies, I have never written such a letter – predicting the killing of my staff and the collapse of the mandate I am expected to fulfill," Lazzarini wrote.

Future accountability for Ukraine and Gaza

The bill begins by condemning Hamas, followed by a note that under the Nuremberg Charter, waging a war of aggression or in violation of international treaties is a crime against peace.

More than two months into the escalation of the conflict, the international humanitarian relief is demanding an urgent ceasefire.

Volker Türk, the high commissioner for human rights, told UN News on December 14, that both the human rights side and the International Criminal Court are working to ensure future accountability for Ukraine and Palestine.

"I am outraged also that so many of our colleagues have been killed, from UNRWA and one from WHO. That our humanitarian system is not respected, that we are not able to provide what we would normally be able to in a situation of war, and that human rights and international humanitarian laws are violated on a daily basis in the greatest of forms," he said.

"It is absolutely critical that accountability be part of any future arrangement, because we know that if impunity reigns and if the facts are not told and if the truth is not told, we will have grievances going on and on and on," he said.

Türk discussed the "possible signs of genocide," although the term "genocide" has been conspicuously omitted from any UN press materials to date.

"I am very worried about the risk of atrocity crimes. I am also extremely, extremely shocked by the dehumanizing language that I have seen – both from Hamas but also from Israeli military and political leaders. We are going to continue documenting, reporting, and monitoring the situation. I believe in this accountability mechanism. We did not have it 75 years ago. We had it in the wake of the Second World War. And the system which was established with the Nuremberg Trials has helped us a lot to build it up."

No official statements other than the bill in support of Israel initiated by the foreign affairs committee right after the UNGA vote have been made on Gaza or the UN vote in Estonia.

On December 13, Foreign Minister Margus Tsahkna (Eesti 200) visited Armenia, where he said that it was time to recognize the Armenian genocide. Estonia would be one of the last countries to do so.

And now it is on the way to becoming the last one to take a note or even "express hopes" in another major cycle of human rights violations.

Update: The bill passed with 78 votes in favor and zero against. In the final version of the text, the clause mentioning the humanitarian crisis in Gaza is added: "[The parliament] calls on the government of Israel and all parties to the conflict to do their utmost to alleviate the humanitarian crisis in the Gaza Strip."


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Editor: Marcus Turovski

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