In Israel, Swedish opposition head slams settlements as ‘unacceptable’

Anna Kinberg Batra, labeled by Israel as ‘moderate and balanced,’ says she wants to see better ties with Jerusalem: PMO puts out no photos from their meeting

Raphael Ahren is a former diplomatic correspondent at The Times of Israel.

Swedish opposition leader Anna Kinberg Batra (Per Pettersson, via Wikipedia CC BY 2.0)
Swedish opposition leader Anna Kinberg Batra (Per Pettersson, via Wikipedia CC BY 2.0)

Israel’s policy of building settlements in the West Bank is “completely unacceptable,” Sweden’s opposition leader said Sunday in Jerusalem.

In an interview (Swedish) with the Expressen newspaper, Anna Kinberg Batra — whom official Jerusalem considers “balanced” regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict — was asked what she would tell Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during their meeting on Monday morning.

She replied: “One must be able to meet in order to deliver criticism. Obviously there is criticism to deliver against the settlements, which are of course unacceptable. But if we want a better exchange and want to influence each other in the right direction and use the positive exchange we have, then one must begin to talk with one another.”

The Netanyahu-Kinberg Batra meeting went ahead as scheduled, but Netanyahu’s office had not issued statements or released photographs of it, as of Monday evening.

Kinberg Batra, head of the center-right Moderate Party, added that she was interested in enhancing her country’s strained ties with Jerusalem. “I want Sweden’s relations with Israel to improve; they can definitely be better than they currently are.”

Asked what she would tell Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, the Swedish opposition leader responded that she wants to discuss “peace in the region and the requirement for both parties to speak with each other.”

Kinberg Batra admitted that she was unable to have any impact on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. “But I’d like to hear and understand the politics in both states. Sweden has recognized Palestine. And I want to meet and hear voices from different sides, both governmental and opposition sides. And I seem to be able to do that on both sides.”

Stockholm-Jerusalem ties have been frosty ever since Sweden recognized a Palestinian state in 2014. They deteriorated even further after a series of controversial statements by Stockholm’s foreign minister, Margot Wallstrom.

On Sunday, Kinberg Batra met with her Israeli counterpart, opposition leader Isaac Herzog.

In a document the Israeli Foreign Ministry sent reporters before Kinberg Batra’s arrival, her attitude toward Israel was described as “moderate and balanced.” The document notes, however, that she has so far not made any public statements in support of Israeli policies. She vehemently criticized the center-left government in Stockholm for recognizing Palestine as a state, but mostly on procedural grounds — the decision was not discussed and voted on in parliament — and not for substantive reasons.

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