The dream of Aland
Last week, during the visit of Finland's foreign minister, Erkki Tuomioja, someone in the Foreign Ministry recalled another dream of Netanyahu's, from 1997: the dream of the "Alandization" of Palestine, or in other words, copying the autonomy model of the Aland Islands - which are under Finnish sovereignty - in the Palestinian territories.
Finance Minister Benjamin Netanyahu revealed to us this week that he has a dream - the Irelandization (and Singaporization) of Israel. Last week, during the visit of Finland's foreign minister, Erkki Tuomioja, someone in the Foreign Ministry recalled another dream of Netanyahu's, from 1997: the dream of the "Alandization" of Palestine, or in other words, copying the autonomy model of the Aland Islands - which are under Finnish sovereignty - in the Palestinian territories. It would be interesting to know, snickered that same source, whether Netanyahu would today repeat that original idea.
In Mariehamn, the snow-covered capital of the Aland Islands, there were recently some people who recalled that Israeli friends from the Levant had shown an interest in them. The governor of Aland, Peter Lindback, told of an Israeli ambassador who wanted to learn about the local police force on the islands. The head of the local administration, Elisabeth Naucler, told of a visit by Prof. Ruth Lapidot, former legal adviser of the Israeli foreign minister, who also came to investigate the local autonomy. Nati Tamir, former ambassador in Helsinki and at present the ambassador in Canberra, confirmed Israeli interest in the "Aland model," and mentioned that it lasted for several years.
It turns out that Israel is in good company. In a world of multiple regional and ethnic conflicts, the list of those interested in the "islands of peace" is a long one. About two weeks ago, the president of Zanzibar visited Aland in order to learn how to behave vis-a-vis his mother country, Tanzania. Before him, a long list of delegations, officials and professors, liberation organizations and government representatives, representatives of separatist regions and mother-countries, visited the islands, from Corsica and France, Nagorno Karabakh and Azerbaijan, South Ossetia and Georgia, the Crimea and Ukraine, and East Timor and Indonesia - and this is just a partial list.
About 25,000 people live in Aland, which is composed of a chain of about 6,500 islands and lies in the Gulf of Bothnia, between Finland and Sweden. In 1809, Czarist Russia annexed Finland and Aland, which until then had been a part of the Kingdom of Sweden. With the fall of the last czar and Finland's declaration of independence, in 1917, the residents of the islands - 95 percent of whom are Swedish speakers, wanted to reunite with Sweden.
Their request was transmitted to the League of Nations, which ruled that the islands would come under Finnish sovereignty, but would be demilitarized and neutralized, and entitled to self rule and full cultural autonomy. This compromise agreement, which didn't satisfy any of the parties in its time, eventually turned the islands into a dynamic and flourishing autonomy, a unique formula that is considered the greatest achievement of the League of Nations.
Finns or Swedes? We are Alanders, boast the inhabitants of the islands today. They watch Swedish television and go to study at Swedish universities, their mentality is closer to Stockholm than to Helsinki, but they still root for Finland at hockey games against Sweden.
For all those seeking the perfect model of government, the Alanders explain that their system is inimitable. If there is anything to learn from it, it is the fact that it is sui generis, and apparently, the same will have to be true of the Palestinian model.
The peace framework which Israel and Egypt agreed upon at Camp David in 1978 spoke of "full autonomy" for the Palestinians. The Israeli peace initiative of 1989 spoke of "self rule," whereas the term on which Israel and the Palestinians agreed after 1993 was "self government." But what was fine before Oslo today arouses profound disdain.
There is nobody in the Foreign Ministry who will admit that the Israeli interest in Aland was anything more than a "preoccupation with a curiosity," because even Prime Minister Ariel Sharon - who, according to many, expressed admiration for the creation of the Bantustans in South Africa, and who writhed (like his predecessors) among the terms "entity," "autonomy," "minimum powers," and "limited sovereignty" - understands that there is no serious body today in the international community that will support anything less than a Palestinian state with full sovereignty.
And Netanyahu? The finance minister, who is also opposed to the disengagement, ignored the overtures of Haaretz this week, as though refusing to awake from his new dreams about the flourishing Israel; as though refusing, at the same time, to give up the old dream of Palestinian autonomy, and to accept the reality and the fact that whether you will it or not, "Aland" is just a dream.