Wallstrom and Netanyahu.
(photo credit: REUTERS,ABIR SULTAN / POOL / AFP)
Sweden’s Foreign Minister Margot Wallstrom is scheduled to arrive Thursday and will be one of the only foreign ministers of a country with whom Israel has diplomatic relations to hold meetings in Ramallah with Palestinian leaders, but not in Jerusalem with Israeli ones.
And it is not because she did not want to meet Israeli leaders. Rather, according to diplomatic officials, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and senior Foreign Ministry officials did not want to meet with her because of what they described as her “hostility” toward Israel.
Jerusalem’s snub of Wallstrom comes even though Sweden, on January 1, will take a seat on the 15-member UN Security Council. In fact, Sweden will hold the presidency of the Security Council in January, a month during which the Palestinians are likely to bring an anti-settlement resolution for a vote.
Formally, Foreign Ministry officials said Wallstrom was unable to set up high-level meetings because of “scheduling problems.” Off the record, however, diplomatic officials said Israel has no interest in meeting a foreign minister who is as “hostile, biased and not objective” as she is. Wallstrom, one official pointed out, was behind Sweden’s recognition of “Palestine” in 2014.
Wallstrom wrote in the Swedish daily Svenska Dagbladet on Tuesday that she would “gladly” visit Israel, but “this has not been possible” at this time.
“I believe in political dialogue as a way to create a deeper understanding of the different approaches and perceptions on important issues,” she wrote. “Sweden cherishes the bilateral relationship with Israel and has good cooperation in many fields, such as trade, innovation and the work against antisemitism. I hope to visit Israel at a later date.”
Wallstrom also wrote that the two-state solution is in danger.
“Frozen negotiations, a booming illegal settlement policy and violence has contributed to a situation where the parties today are farther from each other than perhaps ever before,” she wrote.
Wallstrom wrote that in her upcoming discussions with PA President Mahmoud Abbas and Foreign Minister Riyad Malki the emphasis will be on closer relations between Sweden and Palestine, and that as a result of Sweden’s recognition in 2014, “we can put clearer demands on Palestine to live up to the international commitments it has made.”
Sweden’s Foreign Ministry issued a statement saying the visit to Ramallah will “focus on how Sweden and Palestine can deepen their relationship following Sweden’s recognition of Palestine; the importance of democratic development; respect for human rights and gender equality; and what can be done to strengthen hopes for a two-state solution with Israel and Palestine living side by side in peace and security.”
“The visit to Palestine is important for Sweden’s efforts within the French initiative for the peace process in the Middle East,” the statement said.
Israel has rejected the French initiative, which calls for an international peace conference by the end of the month. In January 2015, a few months after Sweden was the first major western European country to recognize a Palestinian state, then-foreign minister Avigdor Liberman refused to meet Wallstrom during a planned visit, which she then canceled.
Wallstrom continued to rankle Israeli sentiments, making comments that November following deadly terrorist attacks in Paris, which the Foreign Ministry interpreted as linking those attacks to Israel’s conflict with the Palestinians.
Then, in December 2015 and January 2016, she again infuriated Jerusalem by calling – during the height of a wave of stabbing attacks on Israel’s streets – for an investigation into what she had termed Israel’s “extrajudicial executions” of those committing the attacks.
Ministry spokesman Emmanuel Nachshon said at the time that she would not be welcome to visit Israel.