Sweden Becomes First European State to Recognize Palestine

Israel's foreign minister says Sweden 'needs to understand that relations in the Middle East are more complicated than a piece of furniture from IKEA that you assemble at home.'

The Swedish government officially recognized Palestine as a state Thursday morning, during its morning session. In doing so, it became the first European state to recognize a Palestinian state.

"Today the government takes the decision to recognize the state of Palestine," Sweden's Foreign Minister Margot Wallstrom said in a statement published in the Dagens Nyheter daily, AFP reported.

"It is an important step that confirms the Palestinians' right to self-determination," she added.

"Through our recognition we want, first of all, to give our support to moderate forces among the Palestinians," Wallstrom wrote, according to DPA.

Sweden considered that criteria in international law for recognizing a Palestinian state "are met," she said. Although the borders are not defined, there is a government that can "show inner and outer control."

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Wallstrom wrote that "Sweden has earlier recognized states - Croatia in 1992 and Kosovo in 2008 - although they actually lacked control over parts of their territory. Like them, Palestine is a special case."

"There are those who will claim that today's decision comes too soon. I fear it is rather too late, " Wallstrom said

The new Swedish government's plans to formally acknowledge Palestinian statehood were announced on October 3 during the new government's swearing-in ceremony. The announcement drew sharp criticism from Israel. who summoned the Swedish ambassador to a meeting at which Israeli officials sharply protested the move. The United States called it a "premature" move. On Wednesday, Sweden informed Israel that the government would officially recognize Palestinian today.

After the announcement Thursday, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman called Sweden's move a "very unfortunate decision" that only strengthens "radical and intransigent" Palestinian elements.

"The only chance to reach an accord is through honest negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians, and steps like this only bolster the Palestinians' unrealistic demands and push an accord farther away," Lieberman said.

The Foreign Minister said he was sorry to see the Swedish government make such a declaration that does so much damage and serves no useful purpose. "The Swedish government needs to understand that relations in the Middle East are more complicated than a piece of furniture from IKEA that you assemble at home, and should act with responsibility and sensitivity," he added.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas called the Swedish decision a "historic step" that constitutes a reaction to Israel's "conduct and the continued occupation."

"I call upon the nations of the world to take similar steps to increase the chance of achieving peace and establishing a Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital," he said.

Foreign Minister Riyad al-Maliki said, "This is an important and welcome move that will be followed by further moves by other European countries to recognize the state of Palestine."

Hamas, for its part, said Sweden's decision to recognize a Palestinian state is a step in the right direction toward obtaining justice for the Palestinian people.

Sweden recognises the State of #Palestine. A special moment to initial the draft Government decision. pic.twitter.com/umDTiOTfhT

The European Jewish Congress said the decision was "poorly timed."

“Only last night an Israeli was gunned down in an attempt at cold blooded murder, following on from the intentional murder by ploughing into a crowd of people in Jerusalem, killing two, including a three month old baby, all of which follows Palestinian leaders calling on their people to do anything possible to ‘protect’ Jerusalem,” EJC President Dr. Moshe Kantor said. “And rather than condemn the incitement to murder and seek ways to calm the situation, Sweden is merely adding fuel to an already enflamed Middle East.”