'Both sides are very eager to move on'

Swedish foreign minister visits Israel in major step toward rebuilding ties

Ann Linde lands as sides resume ministerial meetings; ties soured in 2014 after Stockholm recognized Palestinian state and its former FM censured Israel

Lazar Berman is The Times of Israel's diplomatic reporter

Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid (left) and Sweden's foreign minister, Ann Linde, (right). (Alexander Nemenov/Pool via AP, AP/Darko Vojinovic))
Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid (left) and Sweden's foreign minister, Ann Linde, (right). (Alexander Nemenov/Pool via AP, AP/Darko Vojinovic))

Sweden’s Foreign Minister Ann Linde landed in Israel Sunday evening, as the two countries work to rehabilitate ties that soured over the past decade.

Linde will meet with Foreign Minister Yair Lapid and President Isaac Herzog, and will visit the Yad Vashem Holocaust museum in Jerusalem. She will also participate in the opening of an exhibition celebrating 70 years of diplomatic relations between the two countries.

“The future is bright. There is a mutual understanding that we agree on many more issues than what we disagree on,” said Ziv Nevo Kulman, Israel’s ambassador to Sweden.

“Both sides are very eager to move on, to develop the relations in ways we both agree on,” he said

Linde is also due to visit the West Bank, where she will meet Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas as well as the head of the PA government and the foreign minister.

“They think it’s also good for the Palestinians that they have good relations with both sides,” explained Talya Lador, bureau chief for European affairs at the Foreign Ministry.

The visit comes amid a marked positive trend in relations in recent years.

In 2019, Linde tweeted that Sweden wants “more cooperation with Israel, not less,” and that Stockholm does not support boycotts of Israel.

Lapid and Linde spoke by phone in September, marking the first such call between the nations’ top diplomats in seven years.

Sweden’s Prime Minister Stefan Lofven delivers the opening speech at the Malmo International Forum on Holocaust Remembrance and Combating Antisemitism – REACT. The one-day conference will focus on the receding memory of the Holocaust as Sweden marks the 20th anniversary of a conference on remembering the genocide. (Jonas Ekstromer/TT via AP)

The tweets from both officials after the call reflected the thawing ties.

“This phone conversation, the first in 7 years between the foreign ministers of our countries, symbolizes the relaunching of relations at this level,” Lapid tweeted. “I appreciate her statement regarding Sweden’s strong and solid commitment to the security of Israel and her recognition in the course of our conversation of Israel as the homeland of the Jewish people.”

Linde tweeted that the call was an “opportunity for me to wish him Shana Tova & emphasise the importance of our bilateral relationship.”

“Both of us stressed that friendship & cooperation can & must go hand with respect for each other’s convictions & differences,” she said.

Linde said that in her call with Lapid just before Yom Kippur, she “condemned terrorism and expressed strong and solid commitment for the security of Israel,” adding that Sweden and the European Union are committed to a two-state solution between Israel and the Palestinians.

Last week, Sweden hosted a major international forum on antisemitism and Holocaust remembrance.

Israeli President Isaac Herzog speaks via video link during the Malmo International Forum on Holocaust Remembrance and Combating Antisemitism – Remember ReAct, in Malmo, Sweden, on October 13, 2021. (Jonas EKSTROMER / TT News Agency / AFP)

“Sweden is an important member state of the European Union, which is Israel’s biggest economic partner, a key player in global diplomacy, and a top founder of Israeli science,” Shai Bazak, CEO of ELNET-Israel, an organization that promotes ties between Europe and Israel, told The Times of Israel.

“The fact that, after seven years, the relations between Sweden and Israel were recently renewed at the highest level shows that both sides recognize the growing need for closer cooperation on shared regional and global challenges, from security to climate change.”

The previous Swedish foreign minister, Margot Wallstrom, repeatedly enraged Israel, starting with Sweden’s recognition of a Palestinian state shortly after she took the post in October 2014.

Swedish Foreign Minister Margot Wallstrom speaks with the media after her meeting with her Palestinian counterpart Riyad al-Maliki in the West Bank city of Ramallah, on December 16, 2016. (Flash90)

Tensions were further strained by Wallstrom’s accusations against Israel when she called the Israel Defense Forces’ killing of Palestinians carrying out stabbing and car-ramming attacks “extrajudicial killings,” and called for “thorough” investigations.

She also caused an outcry in the wake of the November 2015 terror attacks in Paris, when she identified the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as one of the factors explaining why “there are so many people who have become radicalized” — comments Israel called “appallingly impudent.”

Despite the years of suspended high-level contacts, there are also important factors pushing the two countries toward closer ties.

The countries are of a similar size, and both see their economic future as heavily dependent on innovation.

Vinnova, Sweden’s innovation agency, has one of its three international offices in Tel Aviv. Swedish officials have publicly supported restoring Association Council meetings between Israel and the EU, and Sweden will assume chairmanship of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance — whose definition of antisemitism Stockholm endorsed — in 2022.

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