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Politicians split into two camps over Estonia's UN Jerusalem vote

The results of the vote at the extraordinary UN General Assembly on Dec. 21.
The results of the vote at the extraordinary UN General Assembly on Dec. 21. Source: (AFP/Scanpix)

Reactions by politicians who have previously worked for Estonia's Ministry of Foreign Affairs to the country's vote on Thursday in favor of the UN's resolution to reject U.S. President Donald Trump's decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel have varied greatly.

MEP Urmas Paet (Reform/ALDE), who served as Estonia's Minister of Foreign Affairs from 2005-2014, wrote on social media that Estonia's vote was a "mistake," and as no common position was taken by the EU on the UN's resolution, Estonia should have abstained like Latvia or Canada, not placed itself in the U.S.-condemning camp.

"On this very delicate issue, it would have been wiser for Estonia to be among those who abstained," Paet said. "And this would have been a very balanced position in the longer term as well."

Kallas: Neutrality would have been more reasonable

Reform Party honorary chairman and Viimsi municipal mayor Siim Kallas (Reform), who served as Minister of Foreign Affairs from 1995-1996, first responded to the vote by saying it would be ideal if Estonia didn't have to make such choices at all.

He would have preferred to see the EU vote unanimously at the UN General Assembly on Thursday. This did not happen, however, as Latvia, Poland, Romania, Croatia, the Czech Republic and Hungary opted to abstain from the vote.

"To be honest, I personally do not oppose the recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel," Kallas admitted. "But in the UN, it would have been more reasonable for Estonia to remain neutral. To support the U.S.' unilateral decision would have been too much as well."

Helme: Foolish decision

Conservative People's Party of Estonia (EKRE) chairman Mart Helme, who has previously served as ambassador to Russia and undersecretary at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, was of the same position, calling Estonia's vote in favor of the UN's Jerusalem resolution a "foolish decision."

"Estonia made a decision damaging to Estonia's security while a slew of EU countries kept a clear mind and remained impartial in the UN," said Helme. "We should have passed on the opportunity to hurt the United States."

In his opinion, the U.S. is the only country capable of ensuring Estonia and the region's security. "I don't want to believe that the U.S. will pull its money out of Ämari Air Base, for example, as it is too important of a facility for them and NATO, but somewhere else..."

Helme likewise did not rule out the U.S. possibly taking retaliatory steps against Estonia over the country's vote at the UN, as Washington had warned that the U.S. would be "taking names" of countries who supported a resolution criticizing the country's actions, and those who voted against the U.S. could face consequences.

According to Helme, Estonia's leftist, pro-Berlin and -Brussels government has not passed on the opportunity to disparage Trump. "We should tone it down and take the opportunity to remain silent," he added.

Pentus-Rosimannus: Unilateral steps in the Middle East won't help

Current deputy chairwoman of the Foreign Affairs Committe of the Riigikogu Keit Pentus-Rosimannus (Reform), who served as Minister of Foreign Affairs from 2014-2015, believes that those who are trying to cast Thursday's vote as a vote for or against the U.S. are maliciously oversimplifying the matter.

"The vote, which ended with 128 in favor, nine against and 35 abstentions was not about that," she said. "The main question is, is it possible to improve the situation in the Middle East with single, unilateral and unexpected moves? Will such a unilateral declaration stabilize the situation or hurt the peace process?

According to Pentus-Rosimannus, the region is extremely sensitive, and it wasn't for nothing that it was decided in international law in the 1980s already that no moves would be made unilaterally in efforts to change Jerusalem's status. "Throughout the years, this has been the EU and Estonia's position as well, and this is how all EU member states on the UN Security Council voted as well, 100 percent," she added.

In her opinion, it would have been another matter if the Jerusalem issue had been part of a broader, well-thought-out Middle East peace plan, which Trump promised to introduce on a visit to the Middle East.

"The U.S.' role in the entire peace process is extremely important," Pentus-Rosimannus said. "Taking on a substantive leading role and introducing a comprehensive initiative would help move forward with the process."

The lesson here, she added, was that there was much room for improvement in the U.S. and EU's coordination and prior substantive discussion.

Editor: Aili Vahtla

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