Swedish Foreign Minister Margot Wallström said Thursday that she expected relations with Israel to remain “excellent,” despite Jerusalem’s decision to recall its ambassador to Stockholm after Sweden became the first major western country to recognize a Palestinian state.
The move by Sweden triggered a sharp response from Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman, who recalled Ambassador to Sweden Isaac Bachman to Jerusalem for consultations and said Stockholm needs to understand relations in the Middle East are more complicated than self-assembly furniture at IKEA.
In response to Liberman’s comments, Wallström quipped 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.”
While Israeli officials suggested that the Swedish move was motivated by the domestic politics of the new Social Democrat-led minority government, Wallström said she thought that recognizing a Palestinian state would advance peace.
“For peace you need two parties to actually sit down at the same table and discuss the future,” she told CNN.
In response to Israel recalling its ambassador to Stockholm, the Swedish foreign minister said, “We expected criticism and we expected them also to use the diplomatic tools they have available to them. I am confident that this will not destroy the excellent cooperation and relations that we have between our two countries. From our side we will continue to invest in that. We are hopeful that we’ll be able to do that with a partner who will in the near future actually go back to the negotiating table.”
The Swedish foreign minister said that Sweden did not see Israel’s reaction to the recognition of Palestine as a personal attack against the nation.
“We knew they wouldn’t like this decision. It’s a decision that has been taken by 134 other countries around the world before us and I guess they have used the same kind of statements towards them. This is on the substance, it is not against Sweden as a state, and I think it’s important to keep that separate.”
Further explaining the decision, Wallström said, “We think that now is the right time. We think that the legal requirements have been fulfilled. But also we think that it is timely because we had a very serious situation on the ground. We’ve seen new settlements and more violence, and also a tendency to radicalization of young people especially.”
She said the the move was aimed at making the relationship between the Israelis and Palestinians more symmetrical.
“We hope that we can make the parties a little less unequal, that we might inject some new dynamics into the suspended peace talks and also give hope to young people that there is an alternative to more violence and war and conflict in the Middle East.”