Israel Turns Cold Shoulder to Visiting Swedish Foreign Minister

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Swedish Foreign Minister Margot Wallstrom, Monday, Nov. 2, 2105.
Swedish Foreign Minister Margot Wallstrom, Monday, Nov. 2, 2105.Credit: AP

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has refused to meet with Swedish Foreign Minister Margot Wallstrom during her visit to the region this week.

A senior Foreign Ministry official said no other government representative will meet with Wallstrom, so essentially she will only be visiting the Palestinian Authority.

Last week, the Swedish government contacted Israel to try to arrange meetings for Wallstrom with Netanyahu – who is also Israel’s foreign minister – and other government officials. Wallstrom will arrive in Israel this Thursday.

She is visiting ahead of Sweden’s two-year term on the UN Security Council, which starts on January 1. Sweden is also expected to serve as the council’s rotating president next month, a role likely to assume particular importance in light of the Palestinians’ plan to bring a resolution condemning the settlements before the council in early January.

A senior Foreign Ministry official said Israel’s official explanation for denying Wallstrom the meetings she requested was scheduling conflicts. But the real reason, he said, was the government’s unhappiness with Sweden’s policy on the Israeli-Palestinian issue in general, and Wallstrom’s own statements in particular.

“We reached the conclusion that there’s nobody to talk to and nothing to talk about,” he said.

Israel’s already tense relationship with Sweden reached the crisis stage in October 2014, when the newly installed government in Stockholm decided to recognize Palestine as a state. Israel was also furious over Sweden’s positions on the Israeli-Palestinian issue within European Union institutions, and especially Stockholm’s drive to get the EU’s council of foreign ministers to issue instructions for labeling settlement products in supermarkets throughout Europe.

Wallstrom’s own comments in response to the wave of Palestinian stabbing attacks that began in October 2015 further enraged senior Foreign Ministry officials.

In November 2015, for instance, during an interview with a Swedish television station about that month’s terror attacks by the Islamic State in Paris, Wallstrom was asked whether she worried that young Swedes were also being radicalized and joining ISIS.

“Obviously, we have reason to be worried, not just in Sweden but across the world, because there are so many that are being radicalized,” she replied. “Here, once again, we are brought back to situations like the one in the Middle East, where, not least, the Palestinians see that there isn’t a future. [They] must either accept a desperate situation or resort to violence,” she added.

Israel protested Wallstrom’s linking of the Paris attacks to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and the Foreign Ministry’s then-director general, Dore Gold, summoned the Swedish ambassador in Tel Aviv for a reprimand.

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