Israel to boycott Swedish FM on her visit to region

Margot Wallstrom’s attempts to meet leaders officially blocked by scheduling conflicts, but sources say her positions have made her an unwelcome guest

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)

Swedish Foreign Minister Margot Wallstrom will arrive in Israel on Thursday for a visit to the Jewish state as well as the Palestinian territories. But she will not meet with any Israeli officials during her stay, with the government effectively boycotting her over her controversial statements on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

A Foreign Ministry official told Haaretz that while Wallstrom had reached out to try and arrange meetings with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other ministers, she had been informed that these would not be possible due to schedule considerations.

But the unnamed official added that official Israel was simply uninterested in meeting with Wallstrom due to her government’s positions on the conflict as well as her own past comments.

“We’ve reached the conclusion that there’s no one to talk to and nothing to talk about,” he said.

The 61-year-old Social Democrat has repeatedly enraged Israel, starting with Sweden’s recognition of a Palestinian state shortly after she became foreign minister in October 2014.

In the wake of last November’s 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.”

And in December of last year she called on Israel to halt what she called “extrajudicial executions” in response to attacks by knife-wielding Palestinians, following up with a demand for “thorough” investigations into the killing of Palestinians by the Israeli army.

Israel has made clear in the past that she would not be a welcome visitor in the country, and in Netanyahu in January called her critiques outrageous, immoral, wrong and stupid.

“People are defending themselves against assailants, wielding knives, who are about to stab them to death. And they shoot the people. And that’s extrajudicial killings? So why is San Bernardino not extrajudicial killings? And the other day in Paris — a knife-wielding terrorist was shot to death. Is that extrajudicial killing? Does the Swedish foreign minister suggest that there be examinations of what happened there, in Paris. Or in the United States? This is definitely wrong. And it singles out Israel in an absurd way… I don’t want to call it by other names. I’ll just say this is an absurdity, and it’s outrageous,” Netanyahu said.

Israel’s deputy foreign minister Tzipi Hotovely blasted her comments as “a mix of blindness and political stupidity.”

In January 2015 Wallstrom cancelled a planned visit to the region after Israel made it clear she was not welcome. Sweden’s decision to recognize the state of Palestine in October 2014 infuriated Israel and prompted it to recall its ambassador to Stockholm. He returned a month later.

AFP contributed to this report.

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