Sweden and Israel: The IKEA wars
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Sweden and Israel: The IKEA wars

Diplomatic feud turns to dispute over whether furniture giant has (Allen) key to Middle East peace

IKEA headquarters in Älmhult, Sweden (photo credit: CC-BY-SA Sbotig, Wikimedia Commons)
IKEA headquarters in Älmhult, Sweden (photo credit: CC-BY-SA Sbotig, Wikimedia Commons)

Flat-pack furniture behemoth IKEA found itself in the middle of a war of words between Jerusalem and Stockholm Thursday, as the sides sparred over Sweden’s recognition of Palestine.

At the heart of the issue: Whether the Middle East conflict is more complicated than IKEA’s famously frustrating self-assembly instructions.

Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman was the first to bring the Scandinavian company into the fray, quipping Thursday morning that “the Swedish government must understand that relations in the Middle East are more complex than one of IKEA’s flat-pack pieces of furniture.”

He also called Stockholm’s landmark decision to recognize Palestine “unfortunate.”

Sweden's Foreign Minister Margot Wallstrom answers journalists' questions on October 30, 2014 at the government building Rosenbad in Stockholm. (photo credit: AFP/TT NEWS AGENCY/ANNIKA AF KLERCKER)
Sweden’s Foreign Minister Margot Wallstrom answers journalists’ questions at the government building Rosenbad in Stockholm, October 30, 2014. (photo credit: AFP/TT News Agency/Annika AF Klercker)

Responding to the jab, Swedish Foreign Minister Margot Wallström shot back that building Middle East peace was actually pretty much the same as putting together a Liatorp bookcase or Hurdal wardrobe.

“I will be happy to send him a flat pack of IKEA furniture and he will also see that what you need to put it together is, first of all, a partner. And you also need to cooperate and you need a good manual and I think we have most of those elements,” she said in an interview with CNN.

“If we want to use them also for the conflict in the Middle East and for peace, you need the partners to actually sit down at the same table,” she added.

While Wallström admitted Liberman’s zinger was the sign of a good sense of humor, it wasn’t all fun and games.

Israel recalled its ambassador to Sweden on Thursday after Stockholm’s recognition, in a display of anger over the move.

Ambassador Isaac Bachman is to hold consultations with Foreign Minister Avidgor Liberman, the ministry said.

According to a report in the Israeli daily Haaretz, Liberman is also considering downgrading diplomatic relations with Sweden.

Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman speaking at a meeting in the Knesset to discuss Operation Protective Edge, on August 4, 2014. (photo credit: Flash90)
Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman at a meeting in the Knesset to discuss Operation Protective Edge, on August 4, 2014. (photo credit: Flash90)

In an interview with Israel Radio, Bachman said Stockholm had tried to persuade other European countries to follow its lead, but was unsuccessful.

Bachman said the Swedish government had a simplistic view of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

But Swedish leaders defended the move. “It’s an important step that confirms the right of Palestinians to self-determination,” Wallström wrote Thursday in a newspaper article. “Sweden’s traditionally close ties with the State of Israel are now complemented by an equal relationship to the other party.”

With the recognition, Stockholm became the first European Union capital to put its full weight behind the Palestinian claim to statehood.

London’s Parliament voted in favor of a Palestinian state earlier this month, but that move was mostly symbolic.

Raphael Ahren contributed to this report.

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