Despite lingering tensions, Israeli envoy met Swedish FM

Despite lingering tensions, Israeli envoy met Swedish FM

During introductory talks with Margot Wallstrom, new envoy Ilan Ben Dov reportedly maintained Jerusalem's demand for more even-handed treatment

Stuart Winer is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

Margot Wallstrom, Sweden's minister of foreign affairs, in her office in Stockholm, October 31, 2014 (AFP/Jonathan Nackstrand)
Margot Wallstrom, Sweden's minister of foreign affairs, in her office in Stockholm, October 31, 2014 (AFP/Jonathan Nackstrand)

Israel’s ambassador to Sweden met recently with the country’s Foreign Minister Margot Wallstrom, who in the past had been snubbed by Israeli officials over various controversial controversial comments she made, including a demand that Israelis be investigated for alleged extrajudicial killings of Palestinians.

Recently appointed ambassador Ilan Ben Dov talked with Wallstrom on November 16 during a customary meeting held with new envoys, Haaretz reported Thursday.

The meeting was not publicized at the time by Israel’s Foreign Ministry or on Ben Dov’s official Facebook page.

When Sweden in 2014 became the first Western European nation to recognize a Palestinian state, bilateral relations with Israel took a steep nosedive. Tensions were further strained by Wallstrom’s accusations against Israel. In December 2016, Israeli officials threatened to boycott her during a planned trip to the region (which she subsequently canceled). Earlier this year, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declined to meet with Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Löfven on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly in New York.

The Foreign Ministry confirmed that a meeting with Wallstrom took place, but insisted it was within the framework of regular diplomatic practice for new ambassadors.

“Our position regarding the positions on the agenda was clarified to her unequivocally,” a spokesman said.

Posted by Ilan Ben-Dov on Monday, 21 August 2017

“I was pleased to meet with the new Israeli ambassador,” Wallstrom told Haaretz. “We had a good and constructive conversation. There is a new atmosphere here and I expect cooperative work.”

A source close to Wallstrom said the two are expected to meet again in the future.

Ben Dov, who took up his post in August, reportedly explained that the Swedish foreign minister has a regular practice of meeting with new ambassadors. He declined to comment on whether or not the meeting was authorized by Netanyahu, who is also Israel’s foreign minister, saying only that he did not do anything contrary to Foreign Ministry directives.

“I have a lot of meetings that aren’t publicized,” Ben Dov said. “The main body of work is not publicized on Facebook.”

He stressed that while relations between the two countries are developing, there is not yet any official change in Israel’s policy.

“In all my introductory meetings I didn’t hide the fact that we see in the Swedish decision [to recognize the Palestinian state] a strategic mistake of the highest order; it is a fateful mistake that not only damages the bilateral relations, but also damages the peace process,” he was quoted as saying.

“The new atmosphere in the relations between Sweden and Israel doesn’t come at the expense of the unequivocal demand that Sweden improve its policy toward Israel,” he continued.

Wallstrom defended Swedish policies and denied they are biased against Israel.

“We aren’t against Israel, we want the two-state solution,” she told Haaretz. “We are in favor of peace and want relations with Israel and with Palestine.

She dismissed accusation of anti-Semitism against her as “lies.”

Swedish Parliament speaker Urban Ahlin, right, and Knesset speaker Yuli Edelstein, inspect ah honor guard at the Knesset in Jerusalem, November 15, 2017 (Jorge Novominsky)

Last month, before the Wallstrom-Ben Dov meeting, the speaker of Sweden’s parliament, Urban Ahlin, came on a three-day visit to Israel at the invitation of Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein.

In Ramallah, he met with Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah, who used his photo op to call on other European countries to recognize a state of Palestine.

Raphael Ahren contributed to this report.

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