Sweden’s cabinet secretary for foreign affairs, Annika Söder, met with Palestinian leaders on the West Bank earlier this week in the first high-level political visit from Sweden since the Scandinavian nation recognised Palestinian statehood in October 2014. However, Söder did not meet with Israeli officials, who cited “calendar issues”.
“When one declines a request citing calendar issues, we have to respect that. Instead, I only visited Palestine and I hope we will be able to go to Israel soon, too,” Söder told Swedish Radio News on Thursday. She said Sweden had given a number of proposed dates to the Palestinians and the Israelis.
In January, Israel’s foreign ministry slammed the door on Söder’s boss, Sweden’s foreign minister Margot Wallström, who has had a series of dust-ups with Israeli politicians and officials. At the time, the Israeli foreign ministry said Wallström would no longer be welcome in Israel following her criticism of how the country handles Palestinian knife attackers. Israel’s energy minister, Yuval Steinitz, accused Wallström of anti-Semitism after she called for an investigation to determine whether Israel was guilty of extrajudicial killings of Palestinians.
Asked how Sweden plans to handle relations with Israel, Söder told Swedish Radio News: “Our relationship with Israel is very important. When we recognised Palestine, we knew that Israel would not appreciate it. We understood they’d be critical. What we cannot accept is when we hear lies and statements regarding what Sweden stands for that are near slanderous.”
Sweden regards the strong Israeli reactions both as an expression of displeasure regarding Sweden’s recognition of Palestinian statehood and as a way of deterring other EU countries from following Sweden’s lead. So far, Sweden is the only European nation to recognise Palestine but France, which is pushing for an international peace conference – has warned it will move to recognise Palestine, too.
Currently, Israel does not allow Swedish diplomats to enter Gaza, a decision which Söder said is “unsustainable” and “a serious problem”.
“We are working with other aid donors to monitor our donations and we want our aid efforts in Gaza to work. In the long-run this is of course unsustainable, and in the short-term we are working through other channels to monitor our work in Gaza,” said Söder.