Sweden recognises Palestinian state in hope of reviving peace process

Decision ‘a message to Israel’ and response to continued occupation of territory

Israeli foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman: “The Swedish government should understand that Middle East relations are more complex than a piece of self-assembled Ikea furniture.” Photograph: Maya Hitij/Reuters

Israeli foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman: “The Swedish government should understand that Middle East relations are more complex than a piece of self-assembled Ikea furniture.” Photograph: Maya Hitij/Reuters

 

The Swedish government officially recognised the state of Palestine today, the first western European country to do so.

Stockholm’s move reflects growing international exasperation over the moribund Israeli-Palestinian peace process. Swedish foreign minister Margot Wallstrom said her government hoped it would bring a new dynamic to the situation.

“Our decision comes at a critical time because over the last year we have seen how the peace talks have stalled, how decisions over new settlements on occupied Palestinian land have complicated a two-state solution and how violence has returned to Gaza,” she said.

The move drew praise from Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas and criticism from Israel, and has displeased the United States, Israel’s principle supporter.

But Ms Wallstrom rejected accusations that Sweden was taking sides and said she hoped other EU countries would follow its lead.

Palestinians seek statehood in the Israeli-occupied West Bank and the blockaded Gaza Strip, with East Jerusalem as their capital. The land was captured by Israel in the 1967 Middle East war, although Israeli soldiers and settlers pulled out of Gaza in 2005.

Years of efforts to forge a two-state solution have made little progress, with the last effort at negotiations collapsing in April. Palestinians now see little choice but to make a unilateral push for statehood.

A total of 135 countries already recognise Palestine, including several east European states that did so before they joined the EU. Sweden was the first western European country to do so.

The move drew immediate criticism from Israel, with foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman calling it a “wretched decision” that would bolster extremist Palestinian elements.

“The Swedish government should understand that Middle East relations are more complex than a piece of self-assembled Ikea furniture, and the matter should be handled with responsibility and sensitivity,” said Mr Lieberman.

The Palestinian leadership called on other countries to follow Sweden, saying that establishing an independent Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital would strengthen the chances for peace.

“This decision is a message to Israel and is an answer to its continued occupation of Palestinian land,” said Nabeel Abu Rdeineh, spokesman for Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas.

Earlier this month the Palestinians’ chief peace negotiator said a resolution would be put to the United Nations Security Council calling for a November 2017 deadline for the establishment of two states based on the boundaries that existed before the 1967 war.

With Britain’s parliament having recognised Palestine in a non-binding vote earlier this month, and similar votes in the pipeline in Spain, France and Ireland, the Palestinians hope momentum in Europe is shifting.

The United States said earlier this month, when the Swedish move was in the works, that it believed international recognition of a Palestinian state would be premature. Statehood should come only through a negotiated outcome, it said.

The European Union said after the Swedish announcement that the EU’s objective was a two-state solution with an independent Palestinian state living side-by-side with Israel.

“In order to achieve this, what is important is direct negotiations resume as soon as possible.” said European Commission spokesman Maya Kocijancic. “As for the European Union position on recognition, the EU has said in the past that it would recognize a Palestinian state when appropriate.”

The UN under secretary-general for political affairs, Jeffrey Feltman, said in New York yesterday that Israel’s decision to accelerate planning for some 1,000 new settler homes in East Jerusalem raises serious doubts about the Israeli commitment to peace with the Palestinians.

The UN General Assembly approved the de facto recognition of the state of Palestine in 2012, but the European Union and most EU countries have yet to give official recognition. Reuters