The European Union’s sanctions against Russia in response to the situation in Ukraine will affect the organization’s policy on Israel, Finnish Foreign Minister Erkki Tuomioja said in an interview with Haaretz in Helsinki last week.
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Tuomioja said that after offering Israel mainly “carrots” in an effort to bring about peace with the Palestinians, Brussels may have to use “sticks” as well, in order to show that foot-dragging carries a cost.
On Thursday, a day before the EU announced it was broadening sanctions against Russia, Tuomioja told Haaretz: “If a country invades and occupies and annexes part of another country this is clearly illegal and being followed by sanctions of the EU and other countries. So the question that many people are asking, this is fine and we accept it, but how come the Palestinian territories have been occupied for 47 years and there are no sanctions? Nobody has proposed, but we are aware that there is a link with the Ukraine Crimea crisis. So this will come up in the discussions,” he said.
He added that “One of the countries that did not vote on the resolution condemning the annexation of Crimea was Israel.”
Tuomioja said there was consensus in the EU that it and the other members of the Quartet on the Middle East – the United Nations, the United States and Russia – “have to be more actively engaged” in Israeli-Palestinian matters, after a prolonged period of conscious disengagement when U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry took the lead in the negotiations.
The talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority that ended earlier this year “did not lead anywhere,” Tuomioja said, adding: “We of course recognize that without the Americans nothing can be achieved but it is not enough; we also need EU engagement.”
“So far the EU has offered carrots,” the Finnish foreign minister said, in the event the two-state solution is implemented “support and aid to the PA state and new possibilities of Israeli-European trade and other relations. But it also seems that it needs the possibility of sticks. If there is no progress, it has to be shown that there are costs involved in the stalling,” Tuomioja said.
Tuomioja is considered the leftmost member of the Social Democratic Party of Finland, which is in a coalition government with four other parties, all of them to its right. Tuomioja has been foreign minister since 2011, a position he served in from 2000 to 2007.
He has made statements critical of Israel in the past. One, in 2001, was interpreted as comparing Israel’s actions with those of Nazi Germany in the 1930s, an interpretation rejected by Finland’s Foreign Ministry.
When asked about the gap between his personal opinions on the Israeli occupation and Finnish policy, Tuomioja said that Finnish policy on the ground is dependent on the governing coalition in Helsinki and the member of the EU. He is personally against continuing to buy arms from Israel, for example, but in Finland the defense minister (Carl Haglund, of the Swedish People’s Party of Finland) has sole authority over arms imports, whereas the entire cabinet must approve arms sales.
Tuomioja said Finland was among the states that influenced the formulation of the European Union Foreign Affairs Council’s Conclusions on the Middle East Process, issued on July 22, during the war in the Gaza Strip. Because the statement recognized Israel’s right to defend itself and demanded that all terrorist groups in the Strip must disarm, it was interpreted as especially positive toward Israel.
But Tuomioja also said that at the request of Finland and other EU members it also included the EU position regarding a peace agreement in the region. He noted that the statement also said the EU condemns the loss of hundreds of civilian lives as a result of the Israeli military operation. In the past, Tuomioja said, the EU used “regrets” rather than “condemns” in regard to Israeli actions, and he implied that the decision over which words to use was not taken lightly.