Sweden officially recognizes State of Palestine

Move seeks to make parties ‘less unequal’ in future peace negotiations, FM Wallström says; Denmark and Norway announce they won’t follow suit

Raphael Ahren is the diplomatic correspondent at The Times of Israel.

Sweden's prime minister Stefan Loefven, on October 3, 2014 (photo credit: AFP/TT NEWS AGENCY/JANERIK HENRIKSSON)
Sweden's prime minister Stefan Loefven, on October 3, 2014 (photo credit: AFP/TT NEWS AGENCY/JANERIK HENRIKSSON)

Sweden officially recognized the State of Palestine on Thursday, making it the first major European Union member state to back Ramallah’s statehood bid in this way.

“It’s an important step that confirms the right of Palestinians to self-determination,” the country’s foreign minister, Margot Wallström, wrote Thursday in a newspaper article (Swedish link). “Sweden’s traditionally close ties with the State of Israel are now complemented by an equal relationship to the other party.”

With the recognition, Stockholm became the first European Union capital to put its full weight behind Palestine.

London’s Parliament voted in favor of a Palestinian state earlier this month, but that move was mostly symbolic.

Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman called the recognition “unfortunate” and said in a statement that it would only serve to strengthen the Palestinians’ “unrealistic demands.”

“The Swedish government needs to understand that the Middle East is more complicated than self-assembly furniture from Ikea and to act on the issue responsibly and with sensitivity,” he said, getting in a dig at the Sweden-based retail giant.

However, Wallström wrote that the recognition aims to strengthen Palestinian moderates and facilitate a peace agreement by making the parties in future negotiations “less unequal.”

Sweden realizes that the Palestinian leadership is not in full control of the West Bank and Gaza, she wrote, but Stockholm has in the past recognized more than one state that “lacked effective control over parts of its territory,” she wrote, referring to Croatia (1992) and Kosovo (2008). “The Swedish recognition of the State of Palestine will be followed by enhanced efforts to support the development of democracy and human rights in Palestine,” she announced.

After Sweden’s new center-left Prime Minister Stefan Löfven first announced his government’s intention to recognize Palestine on October 3, he was harshly criticized by officials in Jerusalem and Washington, who said the move was premature.

In the wake of Löfven’s declaration, the Israeli Foreign Ministry decided to summon Stockholm’s ambassador in Tel Aviv, Carl Magnus Nesser, to Jerusalem, where the head of the Europe desk, Aviv Shir-On, expressed Israel’s “concern and disappointment.”

A premature recognition of a Palestine “causes a deterioration of the situation on the ground and reduces the chance of reaching an agreement because it creates the unrealistic anticipation that the Palestinians will be able to achieve their goal unilaterally rather than by negotiations with Israel,” Shir-On said.

While the Nordic countries are considered especially hostile toward Israel, Denmark and Norway declared that they will not immediately follow Sweden’s lead.

“We all have the same goal of creating peace in the Middle East,” said Danish PM Helle Thorning-Schmidt. “In Denmark, we also support a two-state solution, but we have chosen another direction and we stand by that. But it is important to say that every country makes its own decisions on this question but we all agree on the same goal: creating peace in the Middle East.”

Likewise, Norwegian Prime Minister Erna Solberg reportedly said her government would not recognize Palestine prior to the implementation of a two-state solution.

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