Swedish foreign minister cancels trip to Israel

Margot Wallström indefinitely postpones Jerusalem visit after diplomatic snub by Liberman over Palestine recognition

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 Wallström has indefinitely postponed a planned trip to Israel, a spokesman said Wednesday, amid an apparent cooling of relations between the two countries since Sweden recognized Palestine.

“The foreign minister has decided to postpone her visit to Israel and Palestine. Instead of next week it will take place later. No date is yet decided,” Margot Wallström’s spokesman Erik Boman told AFP.

Sweden’s decision to recognize the state of Palestine in late October prompted Israel to recall its ambassador to Stockholm, Isaac Bachman. He returned a month later.

In December, Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman said he would boycott the visit by his Swedish counterpart after Stockholm became the first major European Union member state to back Ramallah’s statehood bid.

The foreign minister indicated that Sweden had intentionally obscured its plan to recognize a Palestinian state, and refused to hear any Israeli arguments opposing the motion.

Other European parliaments that passed similar motions at least considered Israeli officials’ arguments before making their decision, Lieberman said.

Sweden’s move to recognize Palestine in October set off a domino effect among other European parliaments that voted in favor of recognizing a Palestinian state.

At the time, Liberman called Stockholm’s decision “unfortunate” and questioned the Swedish government’s grasp of regional complexities. “Relations in the Middle East are a lot more complex than the self-assembly furniture of IKEA,” he quipped.

In response to Liberman’s barb, Wallström, in an interview with CNN, stayed with the metaphor involving Sweden’s iconic furniture giant as she urged dialogue between Israelis and Palestinians.

“I will be happy to send him a flat pack of IKEA furniture and he will also see that what you need to put that together is, first of all, a partner,” she said. “And you also need to cooperate and you need a good manual and I think we have most of those elements.”

Wallström’s scheduled visit had not been officially announced.

According to Swedish media, the main purpose of the trip had been to honor the memory of Raoul Wallenberg, the Swedish diplomat who saved tens of thousands of Budapest Jews from being sent to concentration camps by issuing them Swedish papers in 1944-1945.

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