Jari Haapiainen Interview

March 20th, 2009

Featured Interview with Jari Haapiainen
Senior Officer in International Affairs for the Centre Party & Vice-Chairman of the Finnish UN Association (Scandinavian Leadership Delegation, October 2006)

1. How would you characterize the political relationship between Finland and Israel? Could you share with us your sense of how that relationship has evolved in the past years and where you see it heading?

The relationship between Finland and Israel has a long and deep history. The basis for this strong relationship was already created by 1948 through the Finnish Jewish community.  Today the relationship reaches from diplomacy and trade to cultural and scientific co-operation.

2. Could you summarize Finnish foreign policy priorities and goals in the Middle East?  How might they change after the March 18 elections?

The Middle East remains a foreign policy challenge to the international community. Finland emphasizes multilateral solutions, respect for rule of law, human rights and peaceful co-existence between Middle Eastern countries and actors.

3. The 9 February press release from the Finnish Ministry for Foreign Affairs stated that the new Palestinian Unity government “must respect all agreements previously signed by the Palestine Liberation Organisation.” However, it did not specifically mention Israel’s right to exist. How might this impact Israeli-Palestinian relations and a renewed peace process?

It is necessary for the Palestinian Unity government to respect all previous agreements and to recognize Israel’s existence. Peaceful and constructive cooperation can only be based on mutual recognition and respect.

4. Now that Finland has concluded its term in the EU presidency, do you have any thoughts about the EU’s stance and activity during the Lebanon War? Do you feel that Finland “met her objectives” concerning renewal of the Middle East Process? (Finnish Ministry of Foreign Affairs Press Release 15 Dec 2006).

Following the commencement of its EU presidency, Finland was faced with a very difficult task to solve the Lebanon crisis. The EU had a very central role in solving the crisis by devising UN Resolution 1701 and sending a new UNIFIL force to the region. It is of utmost importance that the task is completed successfully. It is up to the whole international community and local actors to put the peace process back on track.

5. As Vice-Chair of the Finnish UN Association, how would you characterize the UN’s focus on and treatment of Israel? Does your NGO conduct any operations specifically in the Middle East?

I think that the UN’s focus on Israel and other actors in the region should be a balanced one. As a sovereign state, Israel has a right and obligation to protect its citizens and values against acts of terrorism.

6. You traveled to Israel on an educational seminar in October, 2006.  Could you share with us some of the people you met and places you found most interesting or memorable?

There were many interesting people and places in our seminar to Israel. It was a unique opportunity to meet with Israeli Vice-premier Shimon Peres, a true statesman of wisdom and vision. The strength and passion among Israeli politicians, scholars, businessmen and especially young Israeli citizens to develop this nation made a huge impression on me.

7. Many Project Interchange alumni return to their home countries with increased interest and background knowledge about Israel and the Middle East. Did your participation in the seminar impact your professional life, and if so, how? How did it affect your understanding of Israel?

Project Interchange deepened my understanding of Israel and the Middle East and I have closely followed the situation since my participation in the seminar. Israel has faced difficult times in the region in protecting its existence and way of life. It is the obligation of the international community to help to pave the way to a lasting and peaceful solution in which people live in peace, mutual respect, and cooperation in the area.

8. Do you have any suggestions or advice for Project Interchange as we develop future programs from Finland and/or Scandinavia?

I feel that it is a richness that versatile groups of Scandinavian politicians, political advisers, scholars and journalists can continue to visit Israel to learn more about the country, its history and future challenges. It might be interesting to Scandinavian people who value multilateralism to discuss further the international role and policies of Israel in the context of the UN system, and to ponder how the US and EU could together contribute to a Peace Process in cooperation with Israel and other sensible people in the region who value peace more than anything else.