Israel fumes as Sweden grants visa

The nation issued a visa to a Hamas minister after saying it would not.

sweden flag 88 (photo credit: )
sweden flag 88
(photo credit: )
Sweden has broken ranks with the European Union and issued a visa to a Hamas minister, enraging Jerusalem and causing discomfort in some other European capitals. On Wednesday, the same day that Swedish Prime Minister Goeran Persson said at a press conference in Finland that Sweden would not be issuing visas to two Hamas representatives, a Swedish diplomat told deputy directors-general of EU foreign ministries meeting in Brussels that Stockholm had issued a visa to Atef Adwan, a Hamas official and the Palestinian Authority's minister for refugees. Senior sources in Jerusalem were outraged by the decision. One official said that it encouraged and legitimized terror, flew in the face of international law that makes it illegal to give indirect assistance to terrorist organizations, and harmed those trying to create conditions conducive to a diplomatic process. This showed that in Sweden a hostile attitude toward Israel "is not only politically correct, but also politically beneficial," said one official, pointing out that Sweden is to go to elections in the fall and that there is strong pro-Palestinian sentiment there. But Israel was not alone in its criticism of Stockholm's move. One senior European diplomat said that the decision represented a growing gap between Europe and the US regarding how to deal with Hamas. "I'm afraid that the result will be that Europe will lose its say in political matters, relegated again to giving money for humanitarian purposes but left out of the political/diplomatic dialogue," he said. These comments came on the same day that Prime Minister Ehud Olmert told the Knesset that he wanted to deepen the dialogue with Europe. Olmert said that a plan as "decisive, fundamental and widespread" as his "convergence" plan could not be implemented without a great deal of understanding from the US and Europe. He said that Israel would "consult, discuss, and converse" with the international community to get wide agreement on the parameters of the plan, first with the US, "and also with our friends in Europe." "Israel wants to improve its understandings and agreements with European countries," Olmert said. "Today's European leaders understand better the complexity of the situation in the Middle East." He said Israel would "deepen our dialogue with Europe and will aim at including its leaders in the dialogue with the US." However, Sweden's actions, said the senior European diplomat, would make these overtures more difficult. It reflected a deep schism inside Europe - and inside Sweden - regarding how best to deal with Hamas, he said. He added that, although there was a wide European consensus that Hamas had to change its ways before getting international legitimacy, the disagreement was whether the carrot or the stick would be best to prod the organization into that direction. He said that in certain cases the European-financed NGOs in Gaza and the West Bank were influencing the policies of their home governments, since they had budgets that they didn't want to lose as a result of a cessation of ties. He said these groups were a powerful force lobbying Europe to take a more understanding position toward Hamas. Adwan received his visa along with seven other Palestinians, including the director-general of the PA's Foreign Ministry, to visit the southern Swedish town of Malmo on Saturday. Two Hamas representatives were denied a visa for May 16 to visit the same city, which hosts the largest Muslim population in Scandinavia. One European official said he was very surprised that Adwan had received the visa, since EU leaders last month met and decided there would be no political or diplomatic dialogue with Hamas until it recognized Israel, renounced terrorism and accepted previous agreements. The official said that it had been clear from this decision that European visas to PA ministers would not be issued. The visa Adwan received is a Schengen visa. Sweden is a member of the 15-nation Schengen group, which allows freedom of travel to each of these countries to anyone who has obtained a visa from any member country. However, these visas cannot be issued if other Schengen countries object. The European diplomat complained that Sweden simply placed Adwan's name "into the system" - a system receives thousands of names a day - without flagging it as possibly problematic, something both the Belgians and the French did recently when they received visa requests from Hamas officials. But Swedish Ambassador Robert Rydberg told The Jerusalem Post that Sweden put the name through the system "according to standard procedure and form." This procedure includes informing other Schengen countries of possible problems. Rydberg said the decision to issue the visa "was not a break with EU policies, since there is no EU policy on the issuing of visas to Hamas representatives." He also said that Adwan would "have no contact whatsoever with any representatives of the government." Asked then why Sweden had granted the visa, he said: "We allow a lot of people to travel here and there without government officials intending to have any contact with them." Rydberg said that the fact that Hamas was on the EU's list of terrorist organizations means there was a ban on the transfer of funds to the group, but that no decision had been made regarding travel restrictions. "The EU could have decided on such sanctions, and we would have been happy to implement them," he said. "But there are no such sanctions." This is the second source of Israeli-Swedish diplomatic tension in a week. Last week Sweden triggered a sharp response from Jerusalem when it dropped out of an international military exercise once it found out Israel was participating.