Swedish FM postpones visit after Liberman declines to meet

Israeli diplomatic official says it's clear episode shows “problems” between Israel and Swedish government, “though not with Sweden.”

January 7, 2015 20:26
2 minute read.
Sweden's Foreign Minister Margot Wallstrom

Sweden's Foreign Minister Margot Wallstrom. (photo credit: REUTERS)

Facing a refusal by Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman and other top government officials to meet, Sweden’s Foreign Minister Margot Wallstrom postponed a visit planned for next week, underlining the current diplomatic tensions between Jerusalem and Stockholm.

In October, Sweden became the first major Western European nation to recognize “Palestine,” setting off a wave of votes in European parliaments calling for their governments to take similar action.

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As a result of the Swedish move, Liberman let it be known in December that he would not meet Wallstrom during her upcoming visit. Israel, according to diplomatic officials, was given little prior notice of the step taken on the first day that a Social Democrat- led minority government took office in Stockholm.

Despite that, plans for the visit continued, and Wallstrom’s trip appeared on the list of official visitors the Foreign Ministry circulated at the beginning of the month. Wallstrom was expected to participate in a commemorative event for Swedish diplomat Raoul Wallenberg, who helped save tens of thousands of Jews during the Holocaust.

On Wednesday, AFP quoted her spokesman Erik Boman saying Wallstrom decided to postpone the visit, and “instead of next week, it will take place later. No date is yet decided.”

One Israeli diplomatic official said it was clear the episode showed “problems” between Israel and the Swedish government, “though not with Sweden.”

The official said the problems could be overcome either through a Swedish apology or a change of government.

Speaking to a group of Israeli ambassadors to Europe on Sunday, Liberman said the behavior of Sweden and Ireland – whose parliament also voted to recognize “Palestine” – toward Israel was similar to the appeasement of the Nazis at the Munich Conference in 1938.

In October, Liberman responded to the Swedish government’s decision by saying that Stockholm needed to understand that relations in the Middle East were more complicated than the self-assembly furniture of IKEA.

“It is a pity the Swedish government has chosen to adopt the measure that does a lot of damage and has no benefits,” he said.

Wallstrom shot back in kind to Liberman’s comments, quipping in an interview with CNN, “I think it’s a sign of a sense of humor and I will be happy to send him a flatpack of IKEA furniture and he will also see that what you need to put that together is, first of all, a partner, you also need to cooperate and you need a good manual. I think we have most of those elements if we want to use them also for the conflict in the Middle East.”

Reuters contributed to this report.

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