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Israel Treats Sweden as a Banana Republic
By Daud Abdullah
Al-Jazeerah, CCUN, December 14, 2015
|Swedish Foreign Minister
Diplomatic spats between Sweden and Israel have become a regular
occurrence. Ever since the Scandinavian country recognised the state of
Palestine in October 2014 relations between Stockholm and Tel Aviv have
gone from bad to worse. At the heart of this stand-off is Sweden’s
determination to pursue an independent foreign policy without diktats from
any quarters, including Israel.
The latest episode in this
long-running row has come in the wake of a remark made by Swedish Foreign
Minister Margot Wallström during a parliamentary meeting. Responding to an
allegation that her government favours the Palestinians, Wallström said
that while Israel always has the right to defend itself, its response
cannot be “extrajudicial executions” or become “disproportionate”.
On the face of it this assertion may seem normal and reasonable to any
fair-minded observer. However, to Israel’s Prime Minister Benyamin
Netanyahu it is scandalous and totally unacceptable. Not surprisingly,
though, his telephone call to his Swedish counterpart, Prime Minister
Stefan Löfven, failed to win an apology. In fact Löfven added fuel to the
fire when he told a local news agency that knife attacks in Israel fail to
meet the internationally accepted definition of a terror attack.
“There is an international classification regarding what constitutes or
does not constitute [terror]. As far as I know, the [knife attacks in
Israel] are not defined as terror,” he said.
Later that same day
(Monday), Löfven further explained to the agency that it is not clear
whether the knife attacks in the West Bank and Jerusalem were organised by
a classified terrorist organisation though “organised attacks are
precisely acts of terrorism.”
Underlying the tensions is the fact
that Sweden as a sovereign state wants to determine its own foreign
policy, without having to grovel to, or blindly follow a given line
especially when it is not based on internationally recognised standards.
This, in fact, is the same approach adopted earlier this year when Foreign
Minister Wallström criticised Saudi Arabia’s human rights record, notably
with regard to women. After refusing to retract her statements, Saudi
Arabia blocked the Swedish foreign minister from giving a speech to the
Arab League in March.
In this instance, Israel is clearly disturbed
for two reasons. First, that Sweden’s defiance may resonate elsewhere in
Europe and encourage other countries to similarly challenge and condemn
Israel’s culture of impunity in the occupied territories. Neighbouring
Scandinavian countries are perhaps the most likely candidates to follow
suit since they do not have the historical baggage that have deterred
countries such as Germany, Britain and France from taking a strong stand
against Israeli violations of international law.
Of course it is
not just Israel’s apparent shoot-to-kill policy that has provoked
criticism from Sweden’s foreign minister. The maltreatment of Palestinian
women by the occupation forces has also been especially toxic to Wallström
who promised a feminist foreign policy when she took office. She must now
be appalled by this week’s jailing of the left-wing female Palestinian
parliamentarian, Khalida Jarar, on trumped up charges.
the growing disquiet across Europe over Israel’s human rights record and
alleged crimes against humanity will rest heavy on the consciences of many
officials and serve as a constant reminder of their duty to bring those
responsible to account. The unwillingness of the EU to back down over the
question of Israel’s illegal settlements and the labelling of its produce
is a clear sign that patience with Israel is wearing thin. Hence it is no
wonder that Israel has moved to suspend discussion of its conflict with
the Palestinians with EU officials.
Thus far, Tel Aviv’s bully
tactics and intimidation seem wholly ineffective and futile. In the case
of Sweden it is clearly not a banana republic that can be dictated to and
pushed over by Israel. Since the 1970s Israel has meddled in the affairs
of weak and unstable countries in Central and South America. In Colombia
it has provided training for paramilitary forces, including the militias
of narcotics cartels. That role continues today with Israeli involvement
in Mexico, Honduras and the Dominican Republic. This type of interfering,
diplomatically or otherwise, will not succeed in Europe.
Netanyahu’s attempts to smear Foreign Minister Wallström with claims that
she did not condemn the attacks in San Bernardino, California or Paris as
she did with Israeli policies in the occupied territories, are patently
disingenuous. It fits, after all, with his usual methods of emotional
blackmail. If Sweden can resist such tactics others in Europe surely can.
– Dr. Daud Abdullah is the director of the Middle East Monitor
(MEMO) in London. (This article was first published in Middle East
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