Sweden’s shift in position on the Israel-Palestine conflict is symptomatic of Europe’s division

Sweden’s shift in position on the Israel-Palestine conflict is symptomatic of Europe’s division

On October 30, 2014, Sweden became the first European Union member state to recognize Palestine as a state. The Swedish Social Democrats, back in power after eight years in opposition, wanted to revitalize the peace process by encouraging “moderate Palestinian forces,” in the words of then Foreign Minister Margot Wallström. They also had high hopes that their gesture would be emulated by other European countries. This was not the case.

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Now, nine years later, Sweden has radically changed its position. For many years, the Scandinavian kingdom had been one of the Western countries most committed to the Palestinian cause, but since the Hamas terrorist attack on its soil on October 7, the country, now governed by the right, has shown almost unwavering support for Israel . This shift, which parallels that of part of Europe, illustrates the division that is hampering the definition of a common European Union position.

For the current liberal-conservative government, any open criticism of the Israeli offensive in Gaza is unthinkable, despite the fact that it has claimed several Swedish victims, according to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. In response to questions on October 23 and again on October 31, the head of diplomacy, Tobias Billström, said that Israel’s response was “proportionate, in relation to its right to defend itself.” The ministry’s website states that this right “is not absolute,” and that it must respect “international law.” For his part, Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson said on November 12 that he “did not wish to pass judgment on the situation.”

From pro-Palestinian to pro-Israel

This position requires the country to navigate a delicate balance: while Sweden does not advocate a ceasefire, it does call for humanitarian access to Gaza and the protection of civilians. However, it abstained from voting on the resolution, presented by Jordan to the UN General Assembly on October 27, in favor of an “immediate, durable and sustained humanitarian truce” – Germany also abstained while France voted in favor. The text “did not clearly condemn the terrorist attacks against Israel by Hamas and made no reference to Israel’s right to defend itself against terrorists,” the Foreign Ministry explained.

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In addition, on October 10, the government announced the suspension of development aid to Palestinians, before later releasing 150 million kroner (€13 million) on November 2 for humanitarian aid to Gaza. Three of the four parties in the government coalition – the Christian Democrats, the Liberals and the far-right Sweden Democrats – have also called for the recognition of Palestine to be revoked, which Billström has ruled out, saying it would “benefit Hamas.”

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