Sweden named a “special envoy” to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict on Wednesday, amid signs that the US may retreat from its long-held support for a two-state solution. Israel responded to the announcement with derision.
Swedish Foreign Minister Margot Wallstrom, who was snubbed by Israeli officials during her last visit to the region in December over her perceived pro-Palestinian views, announced the new position during a parliamentary debate on foreign affairs.
“This year marks 50 years of the occupation of Palestine,” she said, adding that the creation of the position indicated Sweden’s strong commitment “to work for a resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and will appoint a special envoy.”
Sweden’s announcement came after a senior Trump administration official appeared to backpedal on US support for a two-state solution, telling reporters that the focus of solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict should be more on brokering peace between the sides than working specifically toward the establishment of a Palestinian state.
Since US President Donald Trump was elected president in November, a number of countries have sought to return the Israel-Palestinian conflict to the top of the international agenda over fears that he could seek to sideline the issue.
Wallstrom referenced her recent trip to the region while announcing the creation of the new position, saying, “When I visited Palestine in December it was noticeable that hope can turn to despair, and this features heavily in the consultations that Sweden is holding with almost 150 Israeli and Palestinian civil society organizations.”
December’s United Nations Security Council Resolution 2334 — which condemned Israeli settlements in the West Bank and neighborhoods in East Jerusalem as “a flagrant violation under international law” and having “no legal validity” — as well as the international peace summit in Paris last month, “could, in a best-case scenario, create the conditions for a renewed peace process and a two-state solution,” Wallstrom said.
Israel was not impressed.
“Given the extraordinary successes of this Swedish government in peace making all over the world, we are deeply grateful for the decision to finally solve this region’s illnesses,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Emmanuel Nahshon said. “Why couldn’t they come sooner?”
Nahshon’s remarks were not the first time Israel has sought to denigrate Swedish initiatives with sarcastic comments. In 2014, after Stockholm recognized the State Palestine, then-foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman quipped 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.”
At the time, Wallstrom 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.
Since becoming Swedish foreign minister in 2014, Wallstrom has turned into a persona non grata in Israel, due both to her recognition of a Palestinian state shortly after assuming the post and controversial comments she has made in regards to Israel’s conflict with the Palestinians.
In the wake of the November 2015 terror attacks in Paris, she identified the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as one of the factors explaining why “there are so many people who have become radicalized” — comments Israel called “appallingly impudent.”
Joshua Davidovich and AFP contributed to this report.