Norway’s aspirations to be a “moral superpower” and play a key role in the Middle East peace process could be constrained by its tense relationship with Israel, anti-Semitism at home and its approach to Hamas, according to a WikiLeaks cable published by the Oslo-based Aftenposten paper.

The cable, written on February 13, 2009, by Kevin Johnson, the deputy chief of the US Embassy in Norway, summarizes Oslo’s aspirations to be a leader in the Middle East peace negotiations.

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The cable could serve as an important source document for those seeking to understand the difficulty Israel has in getting its narrative across in Europe.

According to the analysis in this cable, the Oslo process seemed to herald a new peacemaker role for Norway, which it relished. But as the Oslo Accords crumbled, “ties between Norway and Israel weakened,” the cable read.

“The Lebanon wars had a major impact, with approximately 20,000 Norwegians serving in UN peacekeeping forces in Lebanon from 1978 to 1998. These soldiers came home with sympathetic reports about Palestinian refugees and negative impressions of Israelis. Israeli settlements and walls in the West Bank, and invasions of Lebanon and Gaza contributed to Norwegians’ increasingly negative view of Israel,” the US diplomat wrote.

“Norwegian society values dialogue above all,” the cable read. “Talk, even without any expectation of results, is seen as valuable. Anyone who draws a line and refuses to talk to an opposing party is seen as a radical unilateralist. Conversely, Norwegians are extremely opposed to the use of military force to achieve goals, no matter how laudable.”

Compounding this aversion to force, according to the cable, is the fact that “Norwegians do not generally see any threats” and do not see a danger from terrorism.

To illustrate this particular “societal attitude,” the cable points out that a man who shot up Oslo’s synagogue in 2006, planned to behead the Israeli ambassador and attack Israeli and US embassies was “convicted only of grave vandalism.”

The cable said, however, that his “strict sentence showed some understanding of the severity of the charges.”

The man convicted of the shooting, Arfan Qadeer Bhatti, was given an eight-year sentence in 2008.

Norway, according to the cable, has engaged with Hamas, and the organization’s vow to destroy Israel “was ignored or characterized as only rhetoric by the Norwegians.”

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“Although the GON [Government of Norway] would deny it, there are clear signs that contacts with Hamas go beyond a tactical desire for dialogue to a level of sympathy for Hamas positions. The FM once told DCM [deputy chief of mission] for example that one could not expect Hamas to recognize Israel without knowing which borders Israel will have. While the FM expresses some sympathy for Hamas’ positions only in unguarded moments, other prominent Norwegians go further.”

The cable also gives backing to those who argue that Israel’s difficult position in much of Europe is fueled by the large Muslim minorities there.

“Norway’s growing minority population also plays a role in hardening public attitude toward Israel,” the cable read. “The primary minority groups in Norway (25% of Oslo’s population) are Moslem and stem from Pakistan, Iraq, Somalia, and Afghanistan. They are interested in Middle East politics and not surprisingly very critical of Israel.”

Johnson wrote in the cable that with “traditional Norwegians” already independently quite critical of Israel, “it is likely that this viewpoint will be re-enforced by the growing minority groups in Norway.”

Aftenposten has reportedly gained access to the cache of more than 250,000 US diplomatic cables that WikiLeaks started releasing late last month and that were given to a limited number of newspapers, including The Guardian in Britain, Le Monde in France, El Pais in Spain and Der Spiegel in Germany.

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