Sweden and UK Express Support for Palestinian State

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Incoming Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Löfven has announced that his government will recognize Palestine as a state. In doing so, Sweden would join more than 100 other countries that have already done so. Sweden, however would be the first major country to do so, a fact which some observers have indicated could signal a turning point in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Despite the condemnation coming from Israel and the United States, and even an immediate attempt to soften the statement from Sweden’s ambassador to Israel, Mr. Löfven’s statement might have very well set a precedent for other important actors, including the United Kingdom, whose parliament is due to vote on a non-binding motion in favor of recognizing the Palestinian state.

The Swedish statement received immediate criticism from both the Israelis and the Americans. In Israel, the Jerusalem Post editorial suggested that there were more pressing matters than the issue of the Palestinian statehood to which Sweden would do well to pay attention: “Löfven’s motivation for deviating from EU-bloc policy are difficult to fathom. Of all the issues facing Sweden, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is hardly the most urgent. Yet the brand new prime minister thought it pressing enough to merit his attention during his first major speech to his nation….He refrained from commenting on the U.S.-led coalition against Islamic State. Politically speaking, Löfven would only lose from taking a principled stand against Islamic State. Coming out in support of a Palestinian state is a much more popular move for a number of reasons….Swedes have a long tradition of tolerance and liberalism, and they tend to believe that others — including Muslim immigrants and their offspring living in Sweden — see the world like they do. Many do not.”

Perhaps stung by the pushback, the Swedish ambassador to Israel was quick to point out that the remark did not imply that there would be any changes any time soon and that his government’s priority remains the resolution of the crisis on the basis of a peace process: “’Frankly, I think the Swedish prime minister’s comments were misunderstood, and it’s a unfair,’ Carl Magnus Nesser, Sweden’s ambassador to Israel, told Ynet in an exclusive interview a day before he will head to Israel’s Foreign Ministry to be reprimanded for comments made by Sweden’s new prime minister, according to which Sweden will recognize Palestine as a state. Earlier Sunday, the Swedish Embassy in Israel softened its position regarding the recognition of Palestinian statehood, saying it favors peace negotiation to unilateral recognition of a Palestinian state, after an initial announcement by Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Löfven led to a diplomatic crisis with Israel.”

But others in the region have supported the Swedish announcement, hailing it as an important move and taking issue with the U.S. criticism of it. For example, the Saudi Gazette notes in a recent editorial that criticism is unwarranted considering that the Oslo Accords foresee the possibility of a Palestinian state: “The United States as well could not hide its consternation, saying it would be ‘premature’ to recognize a new Palestinian state, and that while it certainly supports Palestinian statehood, it can only come through a negotiated outcome, a resolution of final status issues and mutual recognition by both parties. If it does not already know this, Washington should be reminded that if the Oslo Accords are the yardstick by which we measure the start of serious negotiations between Palestinians and Israelis concerning the creation of an independent Palestinian state, then 21 years have passed since those talks started.”

According to the Palestinian news site Maan News, Palestinian government officials have welcome Sweden’s announcement and have urged other countries to follow suit: “PLO Executive Committee Member Hanan Ashrawi on Saturday said she welcomed Sweden’s decision to recognize Palestine as a state and criticized Israel and the US’s reaction to the decision. ‘Conditioning recognition of the State of Palestine on the outcome of negotiations with Israel is equivalent to making our right to self-determination an Israeli prerogative,’ Ashrawi said in a statement. ‘This fails to address the very basis of the values upon which the United Nations was founded, including its responsibility to protect and act accordingly. We call upon all those countries who haven’t recognized the State of Palestine to do so as an investment in peace, as well as a long overdue right of the Palestinian people.’”

The National’s editorial also hailed the announcement as a small but significant step, suggesting it signaled a shift in the attitude of the European countries who seem to be running out of patience with an intransigent Israeli government: “The move, which comes amid a diplomatic push by Palestinians at the UN to secure a resolution setting a deadline for Israel to end its occupation of Palestinian Territories and East Jerusalem by November 2016, signals that the trajectory of political thinking is changing….History shows it’s often the initiatives of smaller countries that compel bigger nations to act decisively….There are other indications that sentiments are shifting. A EU law introduced last year prohibited the sale of goods produced in the occupied territories. In isolation this legislation was just another small step but, like Sweden’s announcement over sovereignty, suggests the stars are beginning to align against Israel.”

This week’s developments appear to give credence to this sentiment as Sweden’s actions seem to have pushed others in the same direction with the UK parliament — scheduled to take up the issue this week. This despite what the Asharq Alawsat staff predict to be a rather contentious move that could expose some of the UK politicians to domestic and international pressure: “The motion is largely symbolic and will not change official UK policy if it passes. In a reiteration of official British policy, a Foreign Office spokesman said: “We continue to believe that negotiations toward a two-state solution are the best route to meeting Palestinian aspirations in reality and on the ground.” However, the motion is another sign of increasing disenchantment with Israeli policy in the UK and Europe, and is likely to infuriate the Israeli government, as well as causing disquiet in Washington….The motion is also likely to prove divisive within the ranks of the UK’s two largest parties, the Conservatives, the senior partner in the ruling coalition, and the Labour Party, the official opposition.”

In an op-ed for the National, James Zogby warns that for the vote to have any impact at all it must “send a strong message about Palestine…. Passage of the motion will not create a state nor will it end the Israeli occupation, but a “Yes” vote is, nevertheless, important for several reasons. Though symbolic, passage will provide a much-needed boost to the beleaguered Palestinian people. It will send a message that the world is paying attention to their plight and recognizes their rights. Passage will also provide an incentive to those in the Palestinian leadership who have embraced a non-violent, diplomatic strategy to securing their rights….British recognition of Palestine and new European sanctions against exports from West Bank settlements will send Israelis a strong message that their government’s policies are resulting in international isolation and require a re-examination and change.”

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Middle East In Focus is a synopsis of commentary and news from Middle Eastern and other international media. Its purpose is to provide a succinct and balanced summary of the main developments and views that are often overlooked or not properly reflected in the U.S. media. For the most recent collection of articles on and from the Middle East, please go to: http://mepc.org/articles-commentary/articles-hub. Comments and feedback are welcome at info@mepc.org.


  • Middle East Policy

    Middle East Policy has been one of the world’s most cited publications on the region since its inception in 1982, and our Breaking Analysis series makes high-quality, diverse analysis available to a broader audience.

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