Israel rebukes Swedish envoy for Palestine recognition talk

Stockholm’s stance encourages Palestinians to seek unilateral action, damages ties with Israel, Foreign Ministry official says

New Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Lofven addresses the press after his government declaration at the Swedish parliament in Stockholm, on October 3, 2014. (photo credit: AFP/TT News Agency/Janerik Henriksson)
New Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Lofven addresses the press after his government declaration at the Swedish parliament in Stockholm, on October 3, 2014. (photo credit: AFP/TT News Agency/Janerik Henriksson)

A Foreign Ministry official reprimanded the Swedish ambassador to Israel on Monday for the new Swedish prime minister’s pledge to recognize a future Palestinian state. The Foreign Ministry representative argued that the move encourages the Palestinians to pursue unilateral steps toward statehood, rather than seeking to restart direct talks with Israel.

Aviv Shir-on, the deputy director-general for European affairs at the ministry, told Carl Magnus Nesser that the Swedish prime minister’s announcement last Friday “does not only not contribute to the improvement of relations between Israel and the Palestinians, but even harms it, deteriorates the relations on the ground, and minimizes the chance of reaching an agreement because it gives the Palestinians the unrealistic expectation that it may achieve their goal unilaterally, rather than through negotiations with Israel,” the Israeli Foreign Ministry said.

Shir-on expressed Israel’s “disappointment and protest” with the Swedish prime minister’s announcement, and pointed to current regional unrest, saying that the increased violence perpetrated by radical Islamists makes Sweden’s focus on the Palestinians “puzzling and inappropriate.”

The Swedish ambassador was set to convey the message to his government, the Foreign Ministry said.

Carl Magnus Nesser, Swedish ambassador to Israel (photo credit: courtesy Swedish Embassy)
Carl Magnus Nesser, Swedish ambassador to Israel (photo credit: Courtesy Swedish Embassy)

Earlier Monday, the ambassador said that he intended to clarify to Israel the details of Sweden’s position on recognizing a Palestinian state and stress its desire to maintain strong ties with Israel.

“Israel and Sweden have a strong relationship, and the new government has made it clear that it wants this to continue,” Nesser told Army Radio on Monday morning, ahead of his meeting with Shir-on.

He added, however, that in deciding to recognize a Palestinian state, Sweden was making a statement to support the resumption of peace negotiations.

“The situation is clear: peace talks have been suspended for a while, and I think the conflict in Gaza made it clear that the status quo needs to be changed,” Nesser said. “The purpose of such a statement of this forthcoming recognition is, of course, to support negotiations leading to a two-state solution.”

During his inaugural speech Friday, Prime Minister 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 coexist peacefully. Sweden will therefore recognize the state of Palestine.”

Israel’s Foreign Ministry protested Lofven’s announcement and quickly said it would summon Nesser in order to clarify the statements made by the prime minister.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, for his part, said Sunday that “unilateral steps” would not advance peace, but would, rather, push it off.

PA Foreign Minister Riyad al-Maliki welcomed Lofven’s announcement Friday 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,” Maliki said in a statement.

US State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki 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.”

Psaki continued: “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.”

However, later reports indicated there may have been some confusion about Lovfen’s statement.

In a telephone conversation with Israel’s opposition leader Isaac Herzog, Lofven stressed that a Swedish recognition of Palestine would only be approved after rigorous talks on the matter with Israeli, Palestinian, and US officials, Haaretz reported.

“We will not recognize Palestine as a state tomorrow morning,” he assured Herzog. “We want to speak beforehand with all relevant parties, including Israel, the Palestinians, the United States and other EU countries.”

Lofven reportedly went on to say that recognizing the state of Palestine complied with the Swedish government’s stated guidelines.

Several minutes after Lofven’s talk with the opposition leader, Herzog received another phone call from Sweden, this time from Swedish Foreign Minister Margot Wallstrom, who asserted that recognizing the state of Palestine would hasten the resumption of peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians.

“We want to recognize the state of Palestine, because we think that the negotiations should take place between the two nations,” Wallstrom told Herzog.

Wallstrom had said earlier that she hoped Swedish recognition of Palestine would “inspire and give some new energy to the negotiations.”

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