Swedish FM seems to support PA’s payments to terrorists’ families

‘Are people supposed to starve to death?’ Margot Wallström asks, but clarifies Stockholm doesn’t fund Palestinian prisoners

Raphael Ahren is a former diplomatic correspondent at The Times of Israel.

Swedish Foreign Minister Margot Wallstrom in Hanoi, Vietnam, November 23, 2017. (AP Photo/Tran Van Minh)
Swedish Foreign Minister Margot Wallstrom in Hanoi, Vietnam, November 23, 2017. (AP Photo/Tran Van Minh)

Swedish Foreign Minister Margot Wallström appeared to display sympathy for the Palestinian Authority’s policy of paying “salaries” to the families of Palestinian terrorists.

In an interview with a local Jewish journal published this week, Wallström was asked about her opinion of the fact that Ramallah provides financial aid to the families of Palestinians who are in prison for attacking Israelis.

“ I’m not quite sure what should be done in that case, but we have to review how we spend our money. But are people supposed to starve to death or what? What are these families supposed to do if they don’t receive money?” she replied, according to a translation of the interview by a Swedish-born journalist.

A spokesperson for Wallström later told the local journal, Judisk Krönika, that Stockholm’s financial aid to the Palestinian Authority is not being used to pay for needy families. According to Swedish and European Union directives, no aid money is allowed to be used to fund Palestinians in Israeli prisons, the spokesperson said.

Israeli officials have long condemned what they call the PA’s “pay-to-slay” policy.

“Raise your hands high if you agree with me that President Abbas should stop paying terrorists who murder Jews,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said earlier this month during a speech at an AIPAC conference in Washington.

“He pays about $350 million a year to terrorists and their families, each year. That’s about a little less than 10% of the total Palestinian budget. That’s an incredible number,” he said.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) policy conference in Washington, DC, on March 6, 2018. (AFP PHOTO / Nicholas Kamm)

A Washington Post report found that Netanyahu’s claim is somewhat exaggerated, arguing that the actual amount the PA pays to terrorists’ families may be up to two-thirds smaller. The paper did confirm, however, that Ramallah pays “salaries” to suicide bombers and other terrorists.

In her interview, Wallström rejected claims that she is quick to censure Israel but rarely calls out the PA, saying she constantly puts pressure on her interlocutors in Ramallah.

“Always when we meet we talk about the fact that they need a younger leadership, that they need female representation and that they need to hold elections and start a reconciliation and work on issues that can lead to peace negotiations; to make the Palestinian Authority fully state-worthy,” she said.

Wallström also defended herself against accusations of anti-Semitism, saying her positions on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which have led to repeated clashes with Israeli officials, emanate solely from the desire to see both sides reach a political agreement.

“I want to point out that for me it was never about choosing a side in the conflict but rather to strive for a two-state solution; one has to choose peace,” she said.

“Everything I have done proves that I am not an anti-Semite,” she continued. “My driving force ever since I learned about the Holocaust has been to work for a society where that can never happen again.”

Asked if questioning Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state can be considered anti-Semitism, she replied: “I’m not a theologian and I can’t answer that. But if I am accused of being an anti-Semite for promoting a two-state solution I think that hurts the debate. I have always argued for Israel’s right to exist within safe borders.”

Wallström also revealed that she first came to Israel in the 1970s, visiting Masada and some kibbutzim.

“Everything having to do with Israel-Palestine is emotional, and I’m not afraid of that, but it has to be constructive,” she said.

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