Interview by Foreign Minister Tuomioja on the Middle East

Interview by Foreign Minister Tuomioja on the Middle East

Interview by Foreign Minister Erkki Tuomioja in Helsingin Sanomat titled "Do not require too much of Arafat" 10 March, 2002 English translation


Helsingin Sanomat: You have earlier blamed Israel for oppressing and humiliating Palestinians. How would you describe the current situation?
Erkki Tuomioja: "I need not say anything more about it."
Ariel Sharon’s government seems to have chosen a military solution. What do you think Israel is aiming at?
"Sharon’s logic has always been a logic of power. First he aims at suppressing the resistance and then dictating his conditions. The Americans have said that just wait, Sharon will surprise us all with a generous offer, but there have not been any signs of such an offer yet."
You have required that the United States should put more pressure on Israel. Are there any signs of such a pressure?
"People in Europe have wished all the time that the United States would be sufficiently active in this process – that it would be as active as for instance (the EU’s foreign policy representative) Javier Solana, who seems to be dealing with the Middle East half of his time. In the longer term, however, the United States will be the country with most influence. The Israeli army, which is strong as such, would not be capable of acting very long without the support of the Americans."
Palestinians have required international troops to the region. What is your opinion of this?
"The EU has considered that international observers – and they do not mean military forces – might have a useful role in monitoring the Mitchell cease-fire plan. Thus, they would monitor what is really happening and who is responsible for what. The mere presence of observers might calm the parties and keep them apart."
The most recent phase of violence – attacks against refugee camps – was launched when the Israeli party announced that because Jasser Arafat is either unable or unwilling to stop the Palestinian attacks, Israel will break down the resistance by military operations.
"That is what Israel has said all the time. We (the EU) have pressed the Palestinians for more efforts, but we all, the Americans included, do consider that although we must require a hundred per cent effort, no-one can require a hundred per cent result. Such a requirement would give any individual armed man or suicide terrorist on either side the power of veto for the whole peace process."
Do you consider that Arafat has made a hundred per cent effort to end violence?
"I would say that, during the latest phase, he has done more than before. At the moment, it is difficult to say whether Arafat could do anything at all, because he is fully besieged."
The al-Aksa Martyrs Brigade, which belongs to the Fatah movement led by Jasser Arafat, has made most of the bomb attacks against Israeli civilians.
"No-one has a complete control over the Palestinian field. Even Fatah comprises different elements, and there is no evidence that all of them act on the orders and under the control of the Fatah leadership. Arafat knows, undoubtedly, how to tailor his message to different recipients, and that does not increase confidence."
Thus, Arafat continues to be the person with whom peace must be negotiated?
"I believe that Arafat’s real power and significance are declining because of his mere age and health, but he still continues to be a national symbol of Palestinians. Without Arafat it is difficult to achieve anything sustainable."
The EU is the major financier of the Palestinian government. Has it used enough power to persuade the Palestinians?
"Yes, its message has been very unambiguous and clear. When it comes to the financing of the Palestinian government, it involves interesting double standards: Sharon may haul the EU over the coals for supporting terrorism and so on, whereas (Foreign Minister Shimon) Peres and the Americans say that it is absolutely necessary that the EU be involved. Without a functioning government there would be full anarchy, and in such a situation those actors who have access to the strongest machinery of violence would rise to power."
But is it not quite painful from a moral point of view to support such a government?
"Someone else might moralise about having discussions with Sharon, a person whom a court has considered liable for the Sabra and Shatila massacres."
So the choice must be made between a terrorist and a war criminal?
"Well, there are no completely innocent parties."
Are the EU and the USA each other’s antagonists in respect of the Middle East conflict?
"I hope that we are, in any case, on the same side in that we all want to stop violence and aim at a peace process which results in an Israel living within secure frontiers and in an internationally recognized, independent Palestinian state. This has been the EU’s position for a considerably long time, and now also the United States has taken the same position. The initiative of Saudi Arabia, which did not include many new ideas, after all, was perhaps a small step closer to a situation where also the whole Arab community could accept this goal."
You said before this interview that you are no longer too eager to discuss the situation in the Middle East.
"It is, indeed, important to speak about the situation in the Middle East, but I do not want it to be spoken through Erkki Tuomioja. Every time I say something about this issue, there is a terrible fuss about it and my e-mail fills up with messages. Fortunately, however, 80 per cent of those messages have been positive."