Israel And Sweden Friends Again?
After 7 years of frenemy, Israel and Sweden have shared a first phone call on Monday. Foreign Israeli Minister Yair Lapid announced via Twitter that he had spoken to his Swedish counterpart, Ann Linde, and thanked her for “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.”
I spoke with @AnnLinde , the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Sweden. This phone conversation, the first in 7 years between the Foreign Ministers of our countries, symbolizes the relaunching of relations at this level. pic.twitter.com/TmHRFm8wNn
— יאיר לפיד – Yair Lapid🟠 (@yairlapid) September 20, 2021
“I look forward to increased cooperation with Sweden on bilateral and multilateral issues,” Lapid further added, but there has not been an immediate comment from the Swedish Foreign Ministry.
Israel’s plan to grow more international relations
Israel has increased its efforts to mend ties with several countries since its Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and Lapid formed a unity government in June, ousting Benjamin Netanyahu from office after 12 years in government. The country has made big efforts to strengthen relations with Jordan, Egypt, the US, the UAE, Morocco, Sudan, Bahrain, and others.
Sweden’s relationship with Israel saw a downturn after Swedes’ Social Democratic-led government recognized Palestinian statehood in October 2014. According to Al-Monitor’s Rina Bassist, Sweden was the first European Union member to recognize the state of Palestine.
Diplomatic relations were irretrievably broken in December when then Foreign Israeli Minister Avigdor Liberman said he would boycott the visit to Israel by Sweden’s Foreign Minister Margot Wallstrom. For Israelis the previous recognition of Palestine was intolerable. “Sweden has chosen to adopt the measure that does a lot of damage and has no benefits. Sweden must understand that relations in the Middle East are a lot more complex than the self-assembly furniture of IKEA,” noted Liberman.
“I think it’s a sign of a sense of humor, and I will be happy to send him a flat pack of IKEA furniture and he will also see that what you need to put that together is, first of all, a partner,” Wallstrom responded.
After this blowout, Israeli diplomats serving in Brussels protested several times that Sweden was voting and initiating anti-Israeli decisions adopted by the European Union.
A change in the situation happened after the 11-day war of May 2021 against Gaza by Israel. European foreign ministers, including Sweden, pushed for a common official declaration to condemn the fighting, however it did not happen because Hungary objected.
As a result of this fiasco, on May 20, the Scandinavian countries published a Joint Nordic statement, where they condemned the escalation, but criticized Hamas for firing rockets at Israel. “We continue to strongly condemn the indiscriminate and recurrent firing of rockets into Israel by Hamas or any other group in the Gaza Strip. We recognize Israel’s legitimate right to protect itself and its citizens,” was said in the statement. Here is where hostilities began to shift to a friendlier approach between both countries.
After this, in July, Sweden’s current Foreign Minister Sweden Ann Linde expressed openness to meet with Lapid, because “It’s all about having even better relations between the EU and Israel.” Her move came after she saw Benett’s July trip to Brussels, where Lapid met with the German Foreign Minister Heiko Mass, French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian, and Holland’s Sigrid Kaag.
As of now, Israel has got a new ambassador to Stockholm, Ziv Nevo-Kulman, who is working thoroughly to repair bilateral relations.
Will Sweden ignore the obvious political divide on the Palestinian issue with Israel? Will Sweden side with Israel after being the only European country to recognize Palestine? We should hope not, but recent events seem to point towards that direction.
Last year, Sweden’s Prime Minister Stefan Lofven prioritized combating anti-Semitism and attended an International Holocaust Memorial event in Israel on the first visit by a Swedish leader in 21 years.
Additionally, next month Sweden will host world leaders at the International Forum on Holocaust Remembrance in Malmo city. Israel’s President Isaac Herzog is expected to be there for the occasion. This event will most definitely offer both countries an opportunity to bond over different issues, abandoning the Palestinian issue once again.