'A constant threat to pull back aid is not a way forward,' says minister

Sweden refuses to condition aid to PA on curbing incitement

Minister criticizes opposition MP for citing examples of violent rhetoric linked to Palestinian Authority; Israel slams her ‘irresponsible’ position

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

Swedish Minister for International Development Cooperation Isabella Lövin speaking in parliament at a debate about Stockholm’s assistance to Ramallah, March 4, 2016 (Screen grab YouTube)
Swedish Minister for International Development Cooperation Isabella Lövin speaking in parliament at a debate about Stockholm’s assistance to Ramallah, March 4, 2016 (Screen grab YouTube)

Financial aid to the Palestinian Authority should be granted irrespective of its educational policies, anti-Israel or anti-Semitic incitement, a Swedish minister said.

Speaking in parliament at a debate Friday about Stockholm’s assistance to Ramallah, Minister for International Development Cooperation Isabella Lövin said that “support to the education sector or education ministry is not included in the strategy for Palestine decided by the government.”

An MP from the pro-Israel Christian Democrats opposition party, Mikael Oscarsson, had challenged Lövin over the government’s support for the PA. In a written query, he asked how Swedish aid money could be used to get the Palestinians to change the names of 25 schools named after terrorists, how Stockholm could stipulate that payments do not go to causes supportive of terrorism, and whether it would be possible to create a mechanism to ensure Swedish money is not used to further incitement.

In her response Lövin, a member of the Green Party, reiterated her position, first stated in May 2015, that promoting education is not part of Sweden’s development strategy regarding Palestine. Financial aid provides Stockholm with a “possibility to reach out,” she declared in a parliamentary session at the same. “A constant threat to pull back aid is not a way forward.”

The government, she said, already has a set of strategies and goals, and does not plan to impose additional conditions for the provision of foreign aid.

Israel condemned the Swedish minister’s statements, which were first reported by Times of Israel blogger David Metzler, as “irresponsible.”

“Those deliberately ignoring the influence of Palestinian incitement on the current wave of terror are turning a blind eye to the main cause of the knifing attacks threatening innocent Israelis,” the Foreign Ministry told The Times of Israel in a statement. “This is irresponsible for any official providing advice to his government on the Middle East.”

During Friday’s debate in the Riksdag, Oscarsson, the pro-Israel opposition MP, quoted several incendiary posts from the Facebook and Twitter profiles of PA President Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah party. Lövin, in turn, accused him of bringing verbal violence into the House. Palestinian incitement should have no bearing on financial assistance, she insisted.

“I am very worried about us standing like this in Sweden’s parliament and further putting fuel to the fire, and to polarize this debate. That we are importing this very infected and bloody rhetoric that we absolutely don’t need to devote ourselves to when it’s about aid policy,” she said.

In a written statement sent to The Times of Israel, a spokesperson fpr the Swedish Foreign Ministry, Johan Tegel, said that Stockholm “takes very seriously” the issue of incitement. “This topic is continuously a part of our political dialogue with Palestinian representatives.”

In October 2014, Sweden became the first Western European nation to recognize a state of Palestine. At the time, Stockholm raised its financial aid to Ramallah from 500 million Swedish krona to 1.5 billion (about NIS 690 million or $175 million) over a five-year period.

In addition to that “bilateral aid,” Sweden also provides funds for “humanitarian” causes relating to the Palestinians. Last month, Stockholm raised its annual contribution to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) to $40.6 million (about NIS 160 million), an increase of 15 percent.

Relations between Jerusalem and Stockholm have been tense since Sweden recognized Palestinian statehood, but worsened recently due to a series of controversial statements by Foreign Minister Margot Wallstrom. In November, she appeared to suggest that the the terror attacks in Paris that killed 129 people were rooted in the frustration of Muslims in the Middle East, including that of Palestinians.

Two months later she called for a probe to determine if Israel has been conducting extrajudicial executions of Palestinian attackers throughout the current wave of violence. Israel furiously rejected Wallstrom’s allegations, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu calling them “outrageous” and “stupid.”

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