Israel Renews Ties With Swedish Foreign Minister Who Sought Probe of 'Extrajudicial Killings'

Margot Wallstrom meets with Israel’s new ambassador in Stockholm and says a better atmosphere has been forged

David Stavrou
Noa Landau
Stockholm
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Feb. 21, 2017 file photo, Swedish Foreign Minister Margot Wallstrom in Moscow, Russia
Feb. 21, 2017 file photo, Swedish Foreign Minister Margot Wallstrom in Moscow, RussiaCredit: Ivan Sekretarev/AP
David Stavrou
Noa Landau
Stockholm

STOCKHOLM — Israel has resumed its relations with Swedish Foreign Minister Margot Wallstrom, whom Israeli officials harshly criticized last year after she called for an investigation into alleged extrajudicial killings of Palestinians by Israel.

Israel’s new ambassador to Stockholm, Ilan Ben-Dov, spoke with Wallstrom last week in a meeting that was not made public, the Foreign Ministry said. Also, three years after Sweden recognized a Palestinian state, Swedish officials visited Israel last month and met with officials such as Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein and Science Minister Ofir Akunis.

Israel’s relations with Sweden badly deteriorated when Sweden recognized a Palestinian state in 2014, a move followed by harsh statements by then-Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman and Israel’s recalling of its ambassador.

Tensions then increased, in part because of Wallstrom’s statements linking the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to the November 2015 terror attacks in Paris. Around that time, Wallstrom called for an investigation to determine if Israel was guilty of extrajudicial killings of Palestinians after an outbreak of stabbing attacks against Israelis.

The Swedish government and Wallstrom said her words had been taken out of context, but Israel’s Foreign Ministry called the statement “scandalous, surreal, impudent and detached from reality.” Israel then boycotted Wallstrom, and no government official agreed to meet with her on her visit to the region in December 2016.

As part of efforts to end the crisis, two Swedish officials, both from Wallstrom’s Social Democratic Party, visited Israel last month. One was Parliament Speaker Urban Ahlin, who visited Israel as Edelstein’s guest. The other was Sweden’s EU and trade minister, Ann Linde, who met with officials including Akunis, and appointed an envoy to bolster economic cooperation between the two countries.

On November 16, Ben-Dov met with Wallstrom as part of a routine procedure for new ambassadors. Wallstrom told Haaretz she was pleased to meet with Israel’s new ambassador in Stockholm. She and Ben-Dov had a good, constructive conversation, she said, adding that a new atmosphere had been forged.

An official close to the minister said the atmosphere at the meeting was very positive and the two were expected to meet again soon.

Asked whether the meeting had been held with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s approval, Ben-Dov said an ambassador always adheres to the Foreign Ministry’s directives. Netanyahu is also foreign minister.

Still, the meeting was not reported on the ambassador’s Facebook page, as is customary, and no press release was issued.

“Many meetings aren’t made public,” Ben-Dov said. “The main work isn’t published on Facebook.”

He confirmed that Israel-Swedish had developed, but said no official decisions had been made and Israel’s policy remained unchanged.

“In all my meetings I didn’t hide the fact that we see the Swedish decision to recognize a Palestinian state a first-rate strategic mistake,” Ben-Dov said. “It’s a crucial error that not only damaged bilateral relations but the peace process as well.”

Wallstrom still maintains that recognition of the Palestinian state gave hope to young Palestinians and reduced inequality between the two sides of the conflict. She said Israel had punished Sweden for this move and tried to deter other countries from following suit.

Sweden is not against Israel, it wants a two-state solution, she said. Her country is for peace and wants relations with both sides.

Wallstrom said it was unfortunate that so many lies were published about her, saying she was sad about claims that her statements were anti-Semitic.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Emmanuel Nahshon said Ben-Dov’s meeting with Wallstrom was a customary procedure for every new ambassador in every country.

“Our positions on issues on the agenda were made perfectly clear to her,” he said.

Noa Landau reported from Israel.

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