Sweden to Press Palestinians to Boost Role of Women in Nation-building Efforts

Swedish FM Margot Wallstrom to urge Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on his upcoming visit to include more women in efforts to build a viable state.

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Sweden's Foreign Minister Margot Wallstrom, who remarks on terror drew condemnationa from Israel, attends a news conference at the Rosenbad government building in Stockholm, Oct. 30, 2014.
Sweden's Foreign Minister Margot Wallstrom, who remarks on terror drew Israeli condemnations, attends a news conference at the Rosenbad government building in Stockholm, Oct. 30, 2014.Credit: AP

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas is set to get a taste of Sweden's feminist foreign policy when he visits the egalitarian Nordic country next week.

Mayor of Bethlehem Vera Baboun.Credit: Reuters

Swedish Foreign Minister Margot Wallstrom, who wants a bigger role for women in global peace and security affairs, said Friday she will press Abbas to include women in efforts to build a viable Palestinian state.

After Sweden in October became the first European Union member to recognize Palestinian statehood, "we will have their ear," Wallstrom told The Associated Press in a phone interview.

"We want them to refrain from violence, to seek cooperation in all possible ways. And above all to defend democracy, human rights and the position of women in what's going to be nation-building for Palestine from now on," Wallstrom said.
World reaction to the move, although criticized by Israel and called "premature" by the U.S., has been overwhelmingly positive, Wallstrom said, adding that it wasn't about "being against Israel, it is about being for peace."

Lawmakers in Britain, Spain, France and Ireland have approved non-binding motions urging recognition of Palestinian statehood, but Sweden is the only EU member to actually do it. Eight other EU members, including former communist countries, have recognized Palestine but they did so long before they joined the bloc.

The decision reflects how Sweden's new left-leaning government is seeking a role in promoting peace negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians, though Israeli officials called the move counter-productive. Wallstrom canceled a trip to Israel after government officials there refused to meet her.

"If anything, the Swedish recognition is a tail wind to the ongoing Palestinian efforts not to hold direct negotiations with Israel," said Israeli Ambassador Isaac Bachman, who was briefly recalled from Sweden after the decision.

Israel says Palestinians can gain independence only through peace negotiations, and that recognition of Palestine at the U.N. or by individual countries undermines the negotiating process. Palestinians say Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has continued to settle Israelis in the West Bank and east Jerusalem, isn't serious about the peace negotiations.

"Israel has some things to do, too, to show that they want to negotiate. Then they can't continue with settlements," said Wallstrom, a 60-year-old Social Democrat who has served as EU commissioner and special U.N. envoy on sexual violence in conflicts.

More than 550,000 Israelis now live in the two areas, greatly complicating hopes of partitioning the area under a future peace deal. The two territories and the Gaza Strip are claimed by Palestinians for a future state.

In addition to recognition, Sweden increased its aid to Palestinians to 1.5 billion kronor ($180 million) over five years. Wallstrom said gender equality is a key pillar of its aid strategy.

"It's important in our talks with Abbas to hear how women are represented in peace negotiations, how Palestine views the position of women and how resources are distributed," she said.

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