Liberman: Sweden’s Palestine move not meant to advance peace

Writing in local newspaper, FM says that friends don’t undermine one another’s security

Lazar Berman is The Times of Israel's diplomatic reporter

Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt, right, being greeted by his Israeli counterpart Avigdor Liberman in Jerusalem in 2012. (photo credit: Yossi Zamir/Flash90)
Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt, right, being greeted by his Israeli counterpart Avigdor Liberman in Jerusalem in 2012. (photo credit: Yossi Zamir/Flash90)

Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman rejected claims by Stockholm that its planned recognition of a Palestinian state is designed to jumpstart peace talks, writing in a Swedish newspaper Wednesday that the announced move aimed to scapegoat Israel as a salve for local ills.

Writing in major daily Dagens Nyheter, Liberman said that Prime Minister Stefan Lofven’s statement Friday announcing the planned recognition for Palestine “was not meant to bring a true solution to a problem in the international arena, but to give an answer to internal political needs and to conciliate the opinion of a certain faction in Swedish public opinion.”

“Friendly governments don’t act to undermine the national security of their friends, and don’t presume to know better than them how to deal with the host of challenges they face. The Swedish government would do well to reverse its intentions to act in this way toward its friend Israel,” Liberman wrote.

In his piece, entitled “Unilateralism doesn’t solve anything,” Liberman questioned why the Swedish prime minister focused on the Palestinian issue instead of more pressing issues in the Middle East, like the Islamic State, Iran’s nuclear program, or al-Qaeda.

“Focusing on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is used by various parties to compensate for the multitude of failures and frustrations of the international community as it tries to deal with the host of complicated problems on the global agenda,” the foreign minister wrote, charging that the term “a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict” is presented as a false panacea for the region’s problems.

“Do those who support unilateral steps really think that Israel’s government — every Israeli government — can abandon the security of its citizens and its national interests just because someone outside of the region thinks, mistakenly, that adopting the Palestinian position will lead to a solution of the conflict?” Liberman asked.

On Monday, a Foreign Ministry official reprimanded the Swedish ambassador to Israel, arguing that the move encourages the Palestinians to pursue unilateral steps toward statehood rather than restart direct talks with Israel.

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, Ambassador Carl Magnus Nesser 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.

He added, however, that in deciding to recognize a Palestinian state, Sweden was making a statement of support for 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.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu 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.”

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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