Crisis management at the centre of world politics
The conflict between Palestine and Israel has continued for 70 years. The EUPOL COPPS civilian crisis management mission works to put to rest the long-lasting crisis and achieve basic security in the region. The Palestinian question was created by people, and people can also resolve it.
Ramallah is the unofficial Palestinian capital and a place where religions and cultures meet. It also houses the headquarters of the EUPOL COPPS civilian crisis management mission. The head of the mission is Kauko Aaltomaa, who is on leave of absence from his post as Director General of the Ministry of the Interior's Police Department. He monitors the situation in the West Bank first hand from his office in Ramallah.
"Our duty is to advise, train and mentor the local authorities, although in the end it is for the Palestinian Authority to decide which decisions they will make and which goals they will set for themselves. Their decisions and goals, if any, are connected with the prevailing local politics," Aaltomaa points out.
The EUPOL COPPS mission works to address the needs of the Palestinian Authority and to build governmental structures. Its goal is to develop the civil sector of the Palestinian Authority by providing extensive advice and training to the security and judicial authorities. The mandate uses several operating principles. One of them is to increase cooperation between the Palestinian and Israeli security apparatus.
Why is there so much anger in the Middle East?
Israel became an independent state on 14 May 1948 which, combined with the resulting controversial emotions, is considered to mark the beginning of the current conflict in the Middle East. Behind the dispute is the idea of two independent states. The two-state model, which includes the foundation of an independent Palestinian state, is also the basis of the EU mission. In fact, the current conflict in the Middle East culminates in the question of which of the conflict parties has a greater right to the region: the Jews or the Palestinians.
The cultural environment must be taken into consideration in all operations. The West Bank area is the scene of world politics and relations between the great powers. The controversies have deep historical roots. The shadows of colonialism in the Middle East, which resulted from the European power politics and the post-war superpower politics, have not disappeared.
A mosaic of several players
The tensions in the region are very similar to those 30 years ago, when Aaltomaa was engaged in UN peacekeeping and military observer missions. However, the surrounding world has changed. The resource-rich region has a strategic role. It is the scene of high-level world politics and rivalry between the great powers and regional players, so the situation can change quickly. The points of interest and objectives of different countries are intertwined.
"The areas inhabited by the Palestinians are at the heart of the relations between the great powers. Although the world political situation does not directly affect our mission, the political interests and actions of the Palestinians have a direct impact on it," Aaltomaa says.
In the day-to-day work of the civilian crisis management mission, the determined stand of Israel shows, among other things, in the fact that the mission’s employees do not live in Ramallah but rather in Jerusalem, where they return every night after their working day.
Advice and state-building
The EU has already been looking for a peaceful solution to the conflict-prone situation in the Middle East for two decades. It has been difficult to achieve any results. The EUPOL COPPS mission, which was launched in 2006, focuses on supporting the Palestinian Authority and providing technical advice and assistance in building a Palestinian state. The mandate is not political but technical. This means that the mission does not represent any political stand or view.
When Aaltomaa started his work as the head of the civilian crisis management mission six months ago, the mission was in a difficult situation.
"It takes a lot of time to proceed with matters and achieve lasting results. You must be confident that one day the long, persistent state-building efforts will bear fruit. The unstable situation in this part of the world has continued for a long time and somehow you simply have to accept it," Aaltomaa says.
Persistent work towards a common goal
Families and relatives are important in the Middle East. In Israel’s opinion, the Palestinian autonomy may be apparent or limited in many respects. In addition, legislative obstacles may hamper the implementation of the mission.
There are a wealth of players in the West Bank, so cooperation has to be pursued with a mixed group of people. The framework of the mission consists of the Palestinian Authority, organisations, representatives of different countries and the EU structures set in Brussels. According to Aaltomaa, successful cooperation between different players largely determines how well the mission will achieve its goal.
"My focus is on contacts with the local decision-makers and opinion leaders. The work perspective is from the mission towards different partners. It is the duty of the deputy chief to look more after arrangements within the mission and act as a chief of staff," Aaltomaa says about the division of duties in running the mission.
Common sense and knowledge of the environment
The local people consider Aaltomaa a gentleman leader with a calm attitude. According to Aaltomaa, running the mission in the West Bank is similar to anywhere else, although the tense conditions in the Middle East add a special element in the work. There are also major cultural and religious differences in the region and within the mission.
"It is very important that you can interpret and understand people. As I see it, showing Finnish common sense is very effective here, too. If you have patience to listen to people, take them into consideration as human beings, and act systematically and with a determined attitude, you will succeed quite well," says Aaltomaa, who has worked his way from a police officer through administrative positions.
Comprehensiveness at the core of operations
Crisis management covers all the sections of society. For example, the mandate of the EUPOL COPPS mission in the West Bank is very broad. In addition to the security sector, the mission works closely with the judicial administration authorities. This involves further developing the practice of legal professions.
In crisis management, you must be able to play in many fields at the same time. A comprehensive approach to crisis management is also an important priority for the EU.
"It is not enough to operate efficiently in a specific area of society when you are trying to improve the situation of several crises. It is especially important that different professionals and players work towards the same goal. Trying to build security by only improving the police is not enough. Management must take place broadly within society," Aaltomaa points out.
Head of EUPOL COPPS Mission Kauko Aaltomaa, [email protected]
EUROL COPPS in a nutshell
- Police Mission for the Palestinian Territories
- Operates under the European Union’s mandate
- The main focus is on training the Palestinian police, further developing the criminal justice system and enhancing the police-prosecutor cooperation.
- The aim is to support the Palestinian Authority to build efficiently functioning institutions in line with international standards.
- A total of 70 experts from different European countries and Canada are employed in the mission.
- Eight of these experts are Finns, representing different administrative branches.
- The current mandate will end in the summer, although it is likely to continue.
- The civilian crisis management operations of the European Union are part of its common foreign and security policy: the work indirectly affects the internal security of the EU and Finland, such as border and migration management.