The Middle East is experiencing unprecedented turmoil, unrest and suffering. Israel finds itself in a precarious situation in a complex region, where violence as a political means is all too common. I have respect for Israeli security concerns, and believe they are best dealt with in partnership with Israel’s neighbors.
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The recent escalation of violence in Israel and Palestine is deeply troubling. All acts of violence and terror are deplorable and should be condemned by all. I express my deep condolences to the families of the victims. In terms of numbers of dead and wounded, this fall has been the worst in Israel and Palestine for a long time. Excessive force must be avoided and all responses proportionate. Perpetrators must be brought to justice by due process.
In this situation, it is easy to distrust “the other side.” Fear and distrust are enemies of peace. Recent polls among Palestinians and Israelis show they are losing hope that the vision of the two-state solution will ever become a reality. Two decades after the tragic murder of Yitzhak Rabin and 22 years after the signing of the Oslo Accords, the window of opportunity seems to be slowly closing before our eyes. Yet we cannot give up on the long-standing vision of a safe and secure Israel living peacefully alongside an independent, democratic, contiguous and viable Palestinian state.
The recent escalation of violence reminds us once again that the current situation is not sustainable. The absence of a political solution to this conflict can only lead to an endless cycle of violence, deterrence and retaliation. Security is essential and nobody should have to live with a constant feeling of fear. Israel has a right and duty to defend itself and its people from acts of terror. But security measures alone cannot make Israel truly safe. To date, repression of “the other side,” including rigorous measures of separation and the isolation of Gaza, has not proven successful in meeting the security needs of the Israeli people. I am confident that a lasting political solution would not only bring more security but also economic prosperity to both Israelis and Palestinians, and that it is best achieved together with regional stakeholders, among others, on the basis of the Arab Peace Initiative.
Sweden has a long tradition of engagement in the Middle East peace process, dating back to the UN mediation of Folke Bernadotte in the 1940s. The issue of Israel and Palestine has remained a foreign policy priority for the Social Democratic Party throughout the decades, with many initiatives to support ongoing peace efforts. Sweden is a large contributor to humanitarian assistance in Gaza. The Swedish government’s development cooperation with Palestine focuses on strengthening the transparency and accountability of the Palestinian Authority; increased respect for human rights, including gender equality; private sector development; and catastrophe resilience. The well-being of Israel’s Palestinian neighbor is also in Israel’s best interest.
A necessary step
One year ago, Sweden recognized the State of Palestine. I said then that this was a necessary step, aimed at making a positive contribution to the dormant peace process. It was intended to send a clear message of hope to younger generations that there is an alternative to violence and the so-called status quo in a situation where the conditions for the viability of a two-state solution were eroding. It was also intended to recognize the fact that Israelis and Palestinians have equal rights and obligations, as well as equal needs for security.
Critical voices have been raised regarding the Swedish recognition of the State of Palestine, some even calling it “anti-Israeli.” But let me be clear on this: Sweden has a long history of friendship with Israel. We are and will remain a good friend. We cherish the cooperation in many areas with Israel, one of our main trading partners in this part of the world. We have a lot in common as small, innovative economies with highly educated, curious and creative populations. We want to deepen the multifaceted nature of these bilateral relations.
However, good friends are also honest in their criticism and disagreements, such as our disagreement on Gaza’s isolation and the illegal Israeli settlement policy. Sweden supports the European Union policy of differentiation between Israel, within the 1967 borders, and the settlements. It is with concern that we see Israel, a democracy in a turbulent region, drifting away from international law and risking the erosion of its international standing.
I believe that a better and mutually beneficial future can be built for both peoples, if courageous decisions are made. It is time to show leadership, responsibility and restraint, translated into concrete action. Now is the time to:
Create conditions for a results-oriented peace process, including confidence-building measures;
Reach international consensus on clear parameters and realistic time frames for negotiations, including an end to the occupation;
Move toward full implementation of agreements reached between Palestine and Israel;
Create a conducive environment for economic development in all of Palestine, including access to Area C in the West Bank, and to Gaza;
Encourage progress towards intra-Palestinian reconciliation; and
End the isolation of Gaza and ensure access and accountability for international development cooperation and humanitarian aid.
Sweden and the international community as a whole have a joint responsibility to restore and reinforce our common hope – and the hope of Palestinians and Israelis – that a just and comprehensive peace is possible. With political will and courage, it can be achieved. Sweden stands behind Israel and Palestine in these difficult times. Looking ahead, we are ready to continue to support all efforts to fulfil the vision of a two-state solution.
The writer is the foreign minister of Sweden.