Foreign Minister Tuomioja: EU Member States’ views on Middle East very close to one another (newspaper interview)

The Finnish Minister for Foreign Affairs does not support the economic sanctions against the Palestinian Authority, proposed by the US President George W. Bush.
"It is particularly unwise to threaten the Palestinians by saying that the US would withhold financial aid, taking note of the fact that the humanitarian and economic situation in the Palestinian regions is catastrophic,” commented Foreign Minister Tuomioja to the Uutispäivä Demari ((Social Democratic Party newspaper).

According to Reuters, President Bush yesterday threatened the Palestinian Authority by withholding of financial aid if President Yasser Arafat continues in his post. President Bush gave his statement in the G8 countries’ summit in Kanananaskis, Canada. President Arafat had previously informed that he is likely to run in the presidential elections slated to be held in January.

According to Minister Tuomioja, the EU Member States have adopted a very coordinated approach to the issues. This applies also to the British Prime Minister Tony Blair who, in a joint press conference with President Bush in Canada, emphasized the fact that it is up to the Palestinians to elect their own leaders.

Minister Tuomioja says that the EU’s financial support to the Palestinian Authority will continue in spite of the problems.
"A reform of the Palestinian Authority is necessary, of course, and the EU, the most significant financier of the Palestinian Authority, has also wanted to contribute to it in all possible ways,” says Tuomioja. Finland will also continue to provide financial support to the Palestinian region.

Minister Tuomioja characterizes the new US policy line as a slight disappointment. In his speech on Monday President Bush did not, for example, make any mention of the peace conference.
"President Bush’s Middle-East statement cannot unfortunately be considered to necessarily advance the peace process,” he says.
Minister Tuomioja is of the opinion that President Bush’s speech lays too much emphasis on the Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s views.

"Identifying President Arafat or any other person as the problem is not a constructive approach. The main point is to ensure that the Palestinians’ representatives are given a democratic legitimacy, allowing them to commit themselves to the peace process.”

The EU’s Foreign Political Representative Javier Solana proposed in the spring that both Mr Arafat and Mr Sharon be replaced. Minister Tuomioja outlines his view by saying that both leaders’ capability to arrive at peace can be called into question.

"Many people could find a number of objections against Mr Sharon as a suitable peacemaker and comment on his past and the actions that his government has taken, but there is no reason to call into question the democratic legitimacy of the Israeli government,” he says.

However, Minister Tuomioja considers it a positive aspect that, in its Middle-East policy, the US rely on cooperation with the UN, the EU and Russia. "We shall continue our dialogue with the US.”
Minister Tuomioja believes that the Palestinians’ forthcoming elections can prove to be a very crucial event from the point of view of the peacemaking process. Assurance has to be obtained, however, of the fact that the elections be conducted in as normal conditions as possible. The elections cannot be held "under Israeli tanks.”
"The elections is a welcome and important event and require that Israel put an end to their possession of the Palestinian regions. To ensure peace at the time of the elections, it is important to consider strong international presence of observers, to which the EU has to be prepared,” he adds.
According to Minister Tuomioja, Finland could also take an active part in the project. (The Uutispäivä Demari)