The Swedish Government officially recognized Palestine as a state on Thursday, in a move that has greatly angered Israel.
Following the early October announcement that Sweden would recognize Palestine as a state, made by Prime Minister Stefan Lofven in his inaugural address to Parliament, the Israel’s Foreign Ministry summoned the Swedish Ambassador to Israel in order to share their discontent.
At the time the Ambassador reassured the Foreign Ministry that recognition would come at a significantly later date and likely after peace negotiations took place.
In response to the decision, Israel’s Foreign Ministry recalled Israeli Ambassador to Sweden Issac Bachman.
Sweden’s Minister of Foreign affairs, Margot Wallstrom, told Dagens Nyheter news that recognition has been put off long enough.
“Today’s recognition is a contribution to a better future for a region that has for too long been characterized by frozen negotiations, destruction and frustration,” she said. “Some will state this decision comes too soon. I am afraid, rather, that it is too late.”
Wallstrom claimed that the decision was not only altruistic, but in Israel’s best interest. “The purpose of the Swedish recognition is to contribute to the goal of Israel and Palestine living side by side in peaceful coexistence. It’s an important step that confirms the right of Palestinians to self-determination.”
Sweden’s traditionally close ties with the State of Israel has now become complicated by the desire of the new government to create equally close ties with the Palestinians.
Palestinian leadership have continued to seek unilateral statehood in the West Bank and the blockaded Gaza Strip, with Jerusalem as their capital. They have sought to sidestep stalled peace talks by lobbying foreign powers to recognize their sovereignty claim, and thereby circumventing having to deal with Israel.
In 2012, the UN General Assembly approved a de facto recognition of the state of Palestine. However, the EU and most of the EU countries have yet to give any sort of official recognition.
“EU members confirmed in 2009 their readiness to recognize the state of Palestine when it was appropriate,” Wallstrom said. “We are now ready to take the lead. We hope this can show the way for others.”
Wallstrom explained that despite the fact that Palestinian authorities do not have full control of their land and the country and do not have fixed borders, Palestine fulfilled the criteria in international law for recognition.
Israel has publicly protested the move. Israel’s Foreign Minister, Avigdor Liberman, in a statement communicated by his office, slammed Sweden’s decision.
“The decision by the Swedish government to recognize a Palestinian state is an unfortunate decision which strengthens radical elements and Palestinian recalcitrance. Such measures only serve to bolster the Palestinians’ unrealistic demands and delay an agreement. The only way to reach an arrangement between Israel and the Palestinians is for the parties to conduct sincere negotiations,” Liberman stated.
Liberman then proceeded to fire back at the Swedish government on a more personal level.
“It is unfortunate,” said Lieberman, “that the Swedish government chose to adopt a declarative measure that can cause much damage and bring no benefit. The Swedish government must understand that relations in the Middle East are more complex than one of Ikea’s flat-pack pieces of furniture, and would do well to act with greater sensitivity and responsibility.”
Sweden’s neighbors have not been quick to follow the example set by the Swedish government. At a press conference at a summit of the leaders of Scandinavian countries and the Baltic States in Stockholm on Wednesday, Danish Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt said her country would not recognize Palestine at this stage.
“We also support a two-state solution, but we have chosen another direction and we stand by that,” she said.
Norwegian Prime Minister Erna Solberg also said that Norway would not recognize Palestine before an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement was reached.
A total of 134 countries have recognized Palestine before Sweden. Hungary, Poland and Slovakia all recognized Palestine before joining the EU.