Swedish foreign minister in Israel marking thaw in relations

Swedish Foreign Minister Ann Linde will be the first Swedish foreign minister to visit Israel since Sweden recognized a Palestinian state in 2014, sparking a diplomatic row.

 Sweden's Foreign Minister Ann Linde arrives for the EU foreign ministers meeting at the European Council building in Brussels, Belgium May 10, 2021.  (photo credit: Olivier Matthys/Pool via REUTERS)
Sweden's Foreign Minister Ann Linde arrives for the EU foreign ministers meeting at the European Council building in Brussels, Belgium May 10, 2021.
(photo credit: Olivier Matthys/Pool via REUTERS)

Swedish Foreign Minister Ann Linde was set to arrive in Israel on Sunday evening, after a seven-year downgrade in relations between the countries.

Foreign Minister Yair Lapid and Linde plan to meet on Monday, and she will meet with President Isaac Herzog, as well. She also plans to visit Yad Vashem, and to take part in an event hosted by Sweden’s ambassador to Israel marking 70 years of relations between the countries. She plans to visit Ramallah on the second day of her visit.

Linde will be the first Swedish foreign minister to visit Israel since Sweden recognized a Palestinian state in 2014, sparking a diplomatic row, which continued when Sweden’s foreign minister at the time, Margot Wallstrom, accused Israel of “extrajudicial killings” of Palestinians. Israel recalled its ambassador from Stockholm for a month, and there was no contact between the countries on the ministerial level until this year. Lapid himself accused Wallstrom of antisemitism, at a pro-Israel rally in Stockholm in 2016.

But Sweden has made overtures to Israel in recent years, including speaking in favor of convening the EU-Israel Association Council and supporting Israeli candidacy to UN bodies.

Lapid and Linde met at the EU’s Foreign Affairs Council in July, where she asked to bring relations between Israel and Sweden back on track and he agreed. They spoke on the phone in September – the first official conversation between Israeli and Swedish foreign ministers in seven years – and Sweden announced soon after that it would boycott the anti-Israel Durban IV Conference at the UN.

 Foreign Minister Yair Lapid speaks at a press conference in Washington on October 13, 2021 (credit: SHLOMI AMSALEM/GPO) Foreign Minister Yair Lapid speaks at a press conference in Washington on October 13, 2021 (credit: SHLOMI AMSALEM/GPO)

Ties between Israel and Sweden also fit with Lapid’s stated goal of strengthening Israel’s ties to liberal, democratic countries.

Ambassador to Sweden Ziv Nevo Kulman said on Sunday that the Scandinavian country has been warmer toward Israel for the past two years.

Kulman said he thinks “the future is bright,” because Sweden and Israel agree on many issues and can benefit from closer ties. Even before Linde’s visit was announced, Kulman said, the countries were eager to cooperate on issues such as sustainability, gender rights and LGBTQ rights.

“It’s a process, not something that happens overnight,” Kulman said. “It adds to the accumulation of the new spirit in the Middle East, with the signing of the Abraham Accords, which brings more and more Arab countries to have normal relations with Israel... Countries including Sweden understand one cannot look at the Middle East only through the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. It’s a broader scene and there are more urgent problems.”

Last week, Sweden hosted the Malmo International Forum on Holocaust Remembrance and Combating Antisemitism, in which Herzog participated via live stream.

Sweden has only two innovation offices abroad, one in California and one in Tel Aviv, making innovation a big driver of Stockholm’s push to improve relations, a diplomatic source said.

Transportation Minister and Labor Party leader Merav Michaeli spoke with Linde last week about “the huge importance of empowering women and girls and to make sure that our voices are heard in all aspects of policy-making,” in honor of the International Day of the Girl.