Sweden’s recognition of Palestine: New Western approach?

Expert: there is a shift happening not only in public opinion but also among politicians

Asma Ajroudi
Asma Ajroudi - Al Arabiya News
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Sweden’s recognition on Thursday of the state of Palestine reflects growing Western impatience with the deadlocked Middle East peace process, and puts pressure on Israel to accept and work toward a two-state solution, experts say.

Stockholm’s move “reinforces the strong signal to the Israeli government that its actions and policies, especially settlement-building, are totally unacceptable,” Chris Doyle, director of the Council for Arab-British Understanding, told Al Arabiya News.

“It says that Israel can’t colonize ad infinitum without consequences.”

Sweden, a close ally to Washington and an active member in Western military operations, is the first European Union member in Western Europe to officially recognize Palestine.

Prime Minister Stefan Lofven revealed his plan to do so during his inaugural address to parliament in early October.

He urged other European nations to follow suit despite pressure from Israel and its lobby groups.

Non-EU member Iceland is another Western European country that officially recognizes Palestine, in addition to EU members such as Malta, Cyprus and several Central European nations that did so under communist rule in the late 80s before joining the 28-member bloc.

Hugh Lovatt, the Middle East peace process project officer for the European Council on Foreign Relations, said Europeans “are receptive of the idea of rights and international law.”

As such, the 50-day war on Gaza this summer – in which more than 2,100 Gazans and 70 Israelis, mostly in the military, were killed – as well Israel’s previous offensives in 2012 and 2009, have shifted public opinion, Lovatt added.

“Each time, we’ve seen very big demonstrations against what’s happening, and obviously public opinion feeds into political decisions,” he said.

The Swedish decision shows “a shift happening not only among public opinion in Europe, but also among many politicians and political groups,” Lovatt added.

“If you take for example the debate in the British House of Commons, quite a few people who voted in favor of the motion were considered more pro-Israeli,” he said, referring to parliament’s non-binding resolution earlier this month in which an overwhelming 274-to-12 voted in favor of recognizing Palestine.

Read Also: Ex-UK minister Lady Warsi urges MPs to recognize Palestine.

“A lot of their speeches reflected growing frustration over the policies pursued by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. This is being replicated across other countries.”

The recent war on Gaza also gave new impetus to challenge Israel’s approach to the conflict through global Palestinian solidarity protests and viral boycott campaigns.

Israel’s recent announcement that it would build more than 1,000 new settler homes in East Jerusalem, which Palestinians hope will be the capital of their future state, appears to have aggravated its relations with Western powers, including staunch ally the United States.

Netanyahu’s government has had a tense relation with the U.S. administration. This week, the Obama Administration rejected Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon’s requests to meet top national security officials.

This was in response to Yaalon’s disparaging comments over Secretary of State John Kerry’s Middle East peace efforts and nuclear negotiations with Iran.

This in addition to a series of fiery, off-color remarks exchanged between the two allies through the media.

“Israel has a serious crisis with the United States and Europe,” Doyle said. “Given the nature of the current coalition [government] that has shown no desire for peace, it’s unlikely to improve.”

However, Nathan Brown, professor of political science and international affairs at George Washington University, said: “U.S.-Israeli relations are very tense at the top levels, but are still tightly coordinated at all other levels.

“I think the Obama administration is very frustrated with Israel, but is extremely unlikely to take a similar step” to Sweden.

“However, there’s now wide recognition of what should’ve been clear years ago: the diplomatic process between Israelis and Palestinians is dead. Some in the United States want to revive it, but everybody else has stopped fooling themselves,” Brown added.

The Palestinians are heavily pushing for an independent state in the West Bank and Gaza, with its capital in East Jerusalem.

With the Swedish decision, the British parliamentary vote and similar likely votes in other EU states, Palestinians are hopeful of a shift in European policies.

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