STOCKHOLM: Sweden on Thursday (Friday in Manila) officially recognized the state of Palestine, becoming the first European Union (EU) member in western Europe to do so, prompting Israel to recall its ambassador to Stockholm.
“We are not picking sides. We’re choosing the side of the peace process,” Swedish Foreign Minister Margot Wallstroem told reporters as she explained the controversial decision.
Just hours after the Swedish announcement, Israel said it was recalling its ambassador to Stockholm for “consultations.”
“This indeed reflects our irritation and annoyance at this unhelpful decision, which does not contribute to a return to [peace]negotiations,” Israeli foreign ministry spokesman Emmanuel Nachshon told Agence France-Presse.
The Swedish foreign ministry was not immediately available for comment on the Israeli move.
Wallstroem wrote on Thursday in the daily Dagens Nyheter that recognition “is an important step that confirms the Palestinians’ right to self-determination.”
“We hope that this will show the way for others,” he added.
Palestinians are seeking to achieve statehood in Gaza and the Israeli-occupied West Bank with east Jerusalem as the capital. With little progress on reaching a settlement, they have been lobbying foreign powers for international recognition.
Sweden’s move comes as Israeli-Palestinian tensions soar in Jerusalem following months of almost daily clashes in the city’s occupied eastern sector.
Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas immediately hailed Stockholm’s decision as “brave and historic” and called for others to follow suit.
“All countries of the world that are still hesitant to recognize our right to an independent Palestinian state based on 1967 borders, with east Jerusalem as its capital, [should]follow Sweden’s lead,” Abbas’ spokesman quoted him as saying.
More complex than IKEA
But Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman denounced the move, saying “relations in the Middle East are a lot more complex than the self-assembly furniture of IKEA.”
“The decision of the Swedish government to recognize a Palestinian state is a deplorable decision which only strengthens extremist elements and Palestinian rejectionism,” he said in a statement.
Sweden’s new Prime Minister Stefan Loefven, a Social Democrat, announced in his inaugural address to parliament in early October that his country unlike most EU members would recognize a Palestinian state.
While the Palestinians cheered the move, Israel summoned Sweden’s ambassador to protest and express disappointment.
The United States cautioned Sweden against recognition, calling it “premature” and saying the Palestinian state could only come through a negotiated solution between Israelis and Palestinians.
Israel has long insisted that the Palestinians can only receive their promised state through direct negotiations and not through other diplomatic channels.
The United Nations General Assembly overwhelmingly approved the recognition of Palestine as a non-member observer state in 2012.
Sweden’s announcement brings to 135 the number of countries that recognize the state of Palestine, including seven EU members in eastern Europe and the Mediterranean—Bulgaria, Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Malta, Poland and Romania. Non-EU member Iceland is the only other western European nation to have done so.
“The EU has in the past said it would recognize when appropriate, but this is in the competence of member states,” Maja Ko-cijancic, spokesperson of the European external action service, said on Thursday.
In a symbolic vote indicative of growing impatience with peace talks which have effectively been stalled for a year, Britain’s parliament earlier this month also passed a non-binding resolution to give diplomatic recognition to a Palestinian state.