Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt arrived in Israel Monday for a four day visit that includes a couple out of the ordinary agenda items: sleeping overnight in Nablus, and touring Israel's northern border.
Bildt, considered among the most critical foreign ministers of Israeli policy inside the EU, has not been in the country for some two years, having canceled a visit here in the Fall of 2009 because of Israeli anger over his refusal to condemn an article in the Aftonbladet newspaper accusing Israel of killing Palestinians and harvesting their organs.
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Bildt is scheduled to meet Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu on Thursday.
Before Bildt canceled his visit in September, Netanyahu made it known that he was considering not meeting him unless he condemned the Aftonbladet article, something the Swedish government – citing freedom of the press – refused to do.
Israel viewed Bildt's decision to spend Tuesday night in Nablus –
perhaps the first minister of his stature to do so – as a gesture to the
Palestinian Authority. During one of his previous visits, Bildt spent
the night in Ramallah – also not a common occurrence among foreign
ministers and leaders who visit the area.
A Swedish diplomatic official said Bildt's desire to tour the northern
border, also an uncommon stop on the itinerary for foreign ministers,
was due to his desire to understand the strategic issues facing Israel,
and to get a personal impression of the situation on the ground. He is
expected to meet there with OC Northern Command Major-General Gadi
Bildt was one of three foreign ministers in the country on Monday --
the others being Romanian Foreign Minister Teodor Baconschi and El
Salvadorian Foreign Minister Hugo Martinez -- but after landing, went
directly to Ramallah for talks with the Palestinian leadership. He is
scheduled to meet Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman Tuesday morning,
before going back to the PA for additional meetings and tours of the
In addition to the foreign ministers, Quartet envoy Tony Blair was also
in Jerusalem on Monday and met with Netanyahu, who has still not decided
whether to send his envoy Yitzhak Molcho to a meeting with
representatives of the Quartet – the US, EU, Russia and the UN – in
Brussels to discuss the stymied diplomatic process with the
The Quartet, at a meeting in early February, announced that it would
meet at the "level of principals in mid-March" on ways to move the
negotiations forward, and that before that its envoys would meet
separately with Israeli and Palestinian negotiators in Brussels.
Israel has historically been extremely reticent to take part in meetings
of this nature, preferring to let the US alone deal with the
negotiations and not bring other international actors into the
nitty-gritty of the negotiations. Netanyahu's senior ministers – the
forum known as the septet – are expected to meet on the matter Tuesday.
The Prime Minister's Office did not release any statement following the
Blair meeting, with one government source saying only that discussions
on the matter were "ongoing."
One of the septet members, Defense Minister Ehud Barak, linked -- during
an Israel Radio interview -- progress with the Palestinians to certain
developments inside Egypt.
"I don't think peace with Israel is popular among the Egyptian people,
the way it is accepted by the powerful and influential forces in the
government," he said.
"Look, if we maintain the [diplomatic] process and give hope to the
process and a political horizon in talks with the Palestinians, then
there is a chance that this will not turn into an issue in the
inter-party struggles in Egypt before elections there, something that
is not good for us for many different reasons," he said.
At the same time, Barak acknowledged that the conditions for the
diplomatic process now – with the Palestinians no longer able to "lean
on Egypt" – were more difficult and complicated than before the upheaval
in Egypt and the Arab world. But, he said, Israel had no choice but to
look for ways to re-start the process -- one of the reasons being that
if it doesn't it would find itself in greater isolation in the world and
face more and more de-legitimization efforts.