The impossible dialogue between Liberman and Wallström

The two foreign ministers are simply not on speaking terms after having chosen the language of polemics instead of diplomacy.

January 27, 2015 22:07
3 minute read.
Sweden's Foreign Minister Margot Wallstrom

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


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A planned visit in Israel by the Swedish minister of foreign affairs Margot Wallström was canceled last week. If she would have come to Israel, her Israeli counterpart Avigdor Liberman would have refused to meet her. They are simply not on speaking terms after having chosen the language of polemics instead of diplomacy. By doing this they are damaging the relations between Israel and Sweden.

Let’s start with the Israeli government and Liberman. The EU has called on both sides to refrain from taking actions which could raise obstacles to the rapid return to meaningful negotiations. But instead of trying to implement long over-due confidence-building measures, which could facilitate the restart of such negotiations, the government is reacting in a way which only will aggravate the situation and result in further escalation.

Especially irrational and erroneous are the reactions by Liberman. Still Israel’s minister of foreign affairs, he continues to cause damage to Israel’s reputation and case abroad. His party being embroiled in an unprecedented corruption network, he obviously thinks that he can divert the attention from the corruption allegations by accusing European parliaments for anti-Semitism. Speaking recently at a conference for Israeli diplomats, he said among others: “The debates in the Irish and Swedish parliaments, and the amounts of lies, distortions and fabrications of their legislators, are like another chapter out of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion.” He got it all wrong. The Swedish decision to recognize Palestine was taken by the Swedish government and was never put to vote in the parliament. The motivation was of course not anti-Semitism but frustration with the deadlock in the conflict.

Does Liberman really think that to meet the challenges in Europe it’s enough to blame Europe for anti-Semitism? But at least he is right on one point. The status quo has collapsed and a new diplomatic process needs to be initiated. But we don’t see that the Israeli government is initiating anything constructive.

And it’s difficult to see how Israel can progress towards peace with the Palestinians without the support and help of the European Union.

And what about the Swedish government? Immediately after it came to power last October, as a minority government together with the Environment Party, known for its anti-Israeli rhetoric, it decided to recognize the state of Palestine, although such a decision wouldn’t have passed the Swedish parliament where a majority would have voted against it.

But the government thought that this was the right thing to do to promote a restart of the collapsed peace process.

Many in Sweden criticized the decision as premature and counterproductive but the Swedish government kept telling itself and the outside world that it was right. As a “humanitarian great power” Sweden had to show the world that it cared about the plight of the Palestinians.

Even after the European Parliament last December stated that it “supports in principle the recognition of Palestinian statehood and the two-state solution, and believes these should go hand in hand with the development of peace talks, which should be advanced,” the Swedish prime minister Stefan Löfven interpreted the vote as a confirmation that his government was right in recognizing Palestine.

The European Parliament recognized Palestine “in principle” – something which all peace friends would do. The Swedish government decided to recognize Palestine now, thus preempting any peace talks and making the Palestinians believe that they can achieve statehood on a silver tray. Cannot the Swedish government see the difference? Making things even worse, Wallström in an interview last week in the biggest Swedish daily Dagens Nyheter reacted in harsh and unbalanced terms against Israel after her planned visit had been canceled. This prompted the chief editor of the newspaper to publish a rebuttal against her. But nor was the Israeli government spared criticism. Liberman will of course not like it.

Wallström also lost an opportunity to express sympathy for the Jewish victims in the terror attacks in Paris. When Charlie Hebdo was attacked, she published a statement, which can be found at the website of the Swedish embassy in Tel Aviv, condemning the attack as an assault on freedom of expression and democracy. But there is no statement on the anti-Semitic attack at the Jewish shop as if this is something Europe has got used to? If Liberman and Wallström would meet they would have a lot to talk about but they would probably need a mediator to be able to engage in a serious dialogue.

The author is a former official in the European Commission.

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