An anti-Israel march in Sweden's Malmo.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
TALLINN- Attempts to isolate Israel or make it an international pariah state are unhelpful, Estonia’s Foreign Affairs Minister Sven Mikser told The Jerusalem Post in a wide-ranging interview at the ministry on Wednesday.
In line with the European Union and the majority of the international community, Estonia disapproves of Israel's settlement policy. “The international community deems that settlements are in contradiction to international law and an obstacle to peace and will not be approved as a legitimate way of advancing Israel's national interests,” he said.
But Mikser questioned the motives of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, saying "there is a subtle difference between understanding why people and groups act in a certain way and considering it appropriate and constructive. The way to go [forward] is [through] negotiations rather than making efforts to intimidate the other party."
Mikser also stressed that Estonia sees Israel "as a friend and partner."
The Estonian foreign minister said he was not deterred by US President Donald Trump's decision not to of mention the two-state solution during his visit to Israel and the West Bank. "When it comes to Trump's choice of words and rhetoric that he uses, we should probably not read too much into it. He's apparently not quite as careful in his choice of words as other presidents have been in past but I think he is sincere in the effort to be a constructive player," in finding a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, he said.
Addressing the rise of the far right in Europe, Mikser says that while populism has always been present to a degree, he is more concerned about the polarization of politics caused by a perceived need to appeal to certain segments of voters. "Parties are trying to move away from the center, and that makes it increasingly more difficult to agree on anything and also it makes the political pendulum swing much more violently than would be desirable,” he said.
Brexit, he said, rang an alarm bell across much of the continent. “But while we do see movements with extreme ideologies doing relatively well in many European countries and here in Estonia, the rise in polls was stemmed by the shock of Brexit; after Brexit many believed victory for the Brexit camp could fuel an anti-European, anti-globalization trend on the continent, but that didn’t quite happen.”
In Estonia, the most populist party in parliament is the Estonian Conservative People's Party's (EKRE), which holds seven of the 101 parliament seats. Ahead of the elections in 2015, the party used slogans such as “Estonia for Estonians,” marginalizing the country’s minorities.
“EKRE is the most prominent of those groups that try to gain more traction by appealing to anti-immigrant sentiment,” Mikser noted, mentioning that it is the only party in parliament that has questioned Estonia’s EU membership. “They made it into parliament and got above 10% in the polls, so they are not to be totally disregarded as a marginal party but mainstream parties with much more liberal, open, pro-EU programs are still decisively ahead of the party,” he says.
Caution over becoming complacent is an underlying theme for Estonia, which has thus far avoided being targeted by the terror that has rocked other countries in Europe in recent years.
Mikser --a former Defense Minister who is privy to regular intelligence briefs-- tells the Post
that the immediate threat of terror in Estonia is relatively low. “But we're not immune to the rising threat globally, and you can’t drop your guard because when they look for targets they go where they can act,” he hastens to add.
Mikser gives a number of reasons why Estonia is at low risk. The country’s tiny population (1.3 million) and its makeup are among these.
The largest ethnic groups in Estonia are Estonians, Russians, Ukrainians, Finns and Latvians. Immigration to the country is low, though in 2016 it saw the highest number of immigrants in 25 years.
“We monitor closely all activities that can be related to financing terror or any incitement of hatred, we keep an eye on potential radicalization,” Mikser says.
He notes that there have been a few individuals who have taken part, directly or indirectly, in Syria’s civil war and other conflicts. “But when we compare to other countries, the communities at risk of being radicalized are not that numerous either. It’s hard to act in Estonia undetected.” The country’s low profile is another factor. “When terrorists strike they want to have the maximum effect that will make CNN headlines, and Estonia is not that well-known,” he explains.
“But they look for targets of opportunity and we should not prove that,” he reiterates.