Finnish Foreign Minister Erkki Tuomioja has done it again. No sooner did this 1960s radical ease himself back into the foreign minister’s seat after four years in the opposition than he unveiled again his anti- Israel prejudice.
“No apartheid state is justified or sustainable,” he told a panel discussion in Helsinki last week. “If you are occupying areas inhabited by… Palestinians who do not have the same rights as the Israelis in Israel, that is apartheid…. I think that the majority in Israel has also realized this, but they have been unable to provide a leadership that [can] move forward on the two-state solution, on the Palestinian problem.”
As the longest-serving foreign minister in Finland’s history (2000-2007, 2011-present) one would have expected Tuomioja to show greater familiarity with the facts. For one thing, all Israeli prime ministers over the past two decades – from Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres to Ariel Sharon and Binyamin Netanyahu – have unequivocally endorsed the two-state solution, whereas all Palestinian leaders have rejected this solution, refusing to allow a single Jew to live in a prospective Palestinian state. For another, Israel’s “occupation” of the populated areas in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip ended in the mid-1990s.
The declaration of principles signed on the White House lawn in 1993 by the PLO and the Israeli government provided for Palestinian self-rule in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip for a transitional period, during which Israel and the Palestinians would negotiate a permanent peace settlement. By May 1994, Israel had completed its withdrawal from Gaza (apart from a small stretch of territory containing settlements in the south of the Strip, which was vacated in 2005) and the Jericho area of the West Bank. On July 1, PLO chairman Yasser Arafat made his triumphant entry into Gaza.
On September 28, 1995, despite Arafat’s abysmal failure to clamp down on terrorist activities in the territories now under his control, the two parties signed an interim agreement, and by the end of the year Israeli forces had been withdrawn from the West Bank’s populated areas, with the exception of Hebron (where redeployment was completed in early 1997). On January 20, 1996, elections to the Palestinian Legislative Council were held, and shortly afterward, both the Israeli civil administration and the military government were dissolved.
The geographical scope of these withdrawals was relatively limited; the surrendered land amounted to some 30 percent of the West Bank’s overall territory. But its impact on the Palestinian population was nothing short of revolutionary. In one fell swoop, Israel relinquished control over virtually all of the West Bank’s 1.4 million residents. Since that time, nearly 60% of them – in the Jericho area and in the seven main cities of Jenin, Nablus, Tulkarm, Kalkilya, Ramallah, Bethlehem and Hebron – have lived entirely under Palestinian jurisdiction. Another 40% live in towns, villages, refugee camps and hamlets where the Palestinian Authority exercises civil authority but where, in line with the Oslo accords, Israel has maintained “overriding responsibility for security.”
In short, since the beginning of 1996, and certainly following the completion of the Hebron redeployment in January 1997, 99% of the Palestinian residents of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip have not lived under Israeli occupation; rather, they have been under the jurisdiction of the Arafat-led PA.
But a person like Tuomioja wouldn’t be bothered with such facts as far as the Jewish state is concerned. Time and again, he has allowed his anti-Israel animosity to get the better of him. In an infamous 2001 interview, he compared Israel’s attempts to protect its citizens from the savage terror war launched by Arafat’s PA in September 2000 to the Nazi persecution of European Jewry: “It is quite shocking that some implement the same kind of policy toward the Palestinians which they themselves were victims of in the 1930s.”
Ignoring criticism of this comparison, which subsequently became an integral component of the EU’s working definition of anti-Semitism, he told the same Finnish magazine four years later that he “could have avoided many unnecessary reactions with a different wording, but the matter itself has not changed in any way.”
Nor, for that matter, does Tuomioja seem to believe that the Jewish state has any right to self-defense. In 2003, he used the apartheid metaphor to denounce the erection of the security fence, which has done more than any other single factor to slash the tidal wave of Palestinian terrorism, though Finland has long had a similar fence along its border with the Soviet Union/Russia. When Israel responded to years of Gaza rocket attacks on its towns and villages by unleashing Operation Cast Lead in December 2008, Tuomioja, now chairman of the Parliament Grand Committee, condemned this supposed disproportionate use of force. When IDF commandos killed eight Islamist militants in violent clashes on board a Turkish ship trying to break the naval blockade of Hamas-controlled Gaza in June 2009, he demanded that “trade and other ties with Israel should be linked to Israel’s regard for international law and commitment to the peace process.”
One could have dismissed Tuomioja’s musings as a desperate ploy by an aging politician to regain his luster after the highly successful term of his predecessor – the charismatic Alexander Stubb, 22 years his junior – had Finland not been aggressively campaigning for the rotating Security Council seat for the 2013-2014 term. Next time Abbas touts his Jew-free revanchist state to the council, he is likely to find an eager collaborator.
The writer is research professor of Middle East and Mediterranean studies at King’s College London, director of the Middle East Forum (Philadelphia) and author, most recently, of Palestine Betrayed.