Influx of refugees blamed for Sweden recognizing Palestinian state

Former Israeli ambassador to Stockholm says Muslims fleeing Middle East have an outsized influence on leftist parties

Illustrative photo of a pro-Palestinian demonstration in Stockholm, Sweden, on January 20, 2009. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)
Illustrative photo of a pro-Palestinian demonstration in Stockholm, Sweden, on January 20, 2009. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Stockholm’s announcement over the weekend that it would recognize the independent state of Palestine was influenced by the vocal and growing Muslim minority in Sweden, a former Israeli ambassador to Sweden charged Sunday morning. (*See correction below.)

New Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Lofven said during his inaugural address Friday that Sweden would recognize Palestine, a move that would make it the first member of the European Union to recognize a Palestinian state.

Loftven’s party, the Social Democrats, are “anti-Israeli,” former ambassador Zvi Mazel told Israel Radio, but another reason for the statement “is the large Arab minority, which has grown unbelievably this year.”

Mazel charged that Sweden has taken in some 80,000 Arab refugees in 2014, mostly from Iraq and Syria, and claimed there were 700,000 Muslims living in the country.

“All this against a social-democratic background, which is pro-Arabic, pro-Islam and anti-Israeli,” Mazel said.

Mazel was in the headlines several times for controversial actions and statements during his tenure in Sweden. In 2004, he destroyed an exhibit he charged was glorifying suicide bombers. He also said that “Sweden is among the most severely anti-Semitic places,” and that its press bears much of the blame.

In July, the Swedish Migration Board said it estimated 62,000 Syrians would apply for asylum in the country in 2014, among 80,000 expected refugees seeking asylum in Sweden this year.

“We have seen how the number of applicants has increased week by week and since midsummer we have had over 2,000 applicants each week, levels we have not seen since the horrors of the Yugoslav Wars”, Migration Board head Anders Danielsson said at the time.

A US State Department report in 2009 estimated some 500,000 of Sweden’s population was Muslim, making up 5 percent of its population of about 9 million. That numbers has likely jumped in past years with the influx of Syrian refugees.

Mazel said the Islamic minority in Sweden has an outsized influence on the new leftist Swedish government, which itself is a minority government which did not receive more than 42 percent percent of the vote in total and is formed of parties which “hate Israel.”

Even though Sweden is an important European country, in announcing the recognition of Palestine, it has left the general European consensus, which still is behind the procedures laid down in the original Oslo agreement, which called for bilateral negotiations to determine the contours of the future Palestinian state, not unilateral declarations, Mazel said.

Jerusalem reacted angrily to Stockholm’s announcement.  Israel’s Foreign Ministry said Saturday that it will summon Sweden’s ambassador to Israel to protest Lofven’s move.

Deputy Foreign Minister Tzahi Hanegbi said that actions such as the planned Swedish recognition would hurt peacemaking efforts rather than strengthen them.

“The more international support the Palestinians receive without being required to negotiate and without paying their due in mutual concessions, the less likely an accord becomes,” he told Israel Radio.

Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman said in a statement Saturday that “If the situation in the Middle East is what concerns the Swedish prime minister in his inaugural speech, he would be better off focusing on more pressing matters in the region such as the daily mass killings taking place in Syria, Iraq and other places.”

In his speech Lofven said that “the conflict between Israel and Palestine can only be solved with a two-state solution, negotiated in accordance with international law.”

“The two-state solution requires mutual recognition and a will to co-exist peacefully. Sweden will therefore recognize the state of Palestine,” he added. He didn’t say when or how that would happen.

Several European countries including Hungary, Slovakia and Romania have given their recognition of Palestine as a state but did so before they became members of the EU.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is set to ask the UN Security Council to vote on a resolution that would seek an Israeli withdrawal to the pre-1967 lines in a timeframe of two years.

In November 2012, the UN General Assembly voted to upgrade Palestine’s status to “non-member observer state.”

PA Foreign Minister Riyad al-Maliki welcomed Lofven’s announcement and called on other European Union countries to follow suit.

“In the name of the Palestinian people and the Palestinian leadership, we thank and salute the Swedish position,” Malki said in a statement.

Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat praised the announcement on Sunday and said that “we hope that all countries of the European Union will take the same courageous and remarkable decision … as there is no reason not to recognize the Palestinian state.”

US State Department spokeswoman Jen Psakia said the US looks forward to working with the new government of Sweden — a close partner — but called international recognition of a Palestinian state “premature.”

“We believe that the process is one that has to be worked out through the parties to agree on the terms of how they’ll live in the future of two states living side-by-side,” she said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

(*Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly attributed the comments by Mazel to current Israeli Ambassador Isaac Bachman.)

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