Sweden’s cancelled Israel trip stirs debate

UPDATED: Sweden’s foreign minister cancelled a trip to Israel last week because no Israeli official was willing to meet her, it has been claimed. On Thursday the country's opposition parties criticized her approach to relations with the Middle East.

Sweden's cancelled Israel trip stirs debate
Sweden's Foreign Minister Margot Wallström. Photo: TT

When Margot Wallström announced that she had “decided to postpone” her trip to Israel, she cited “diary reasons”, but on Thursday a spokesperson for the Israeli foreign ministry gave another version of events.

Speaking to Sveriges Radio, Emmanuel Nachshon said: “The Swedish foreign minister would not have received any official meetings in Israel if she’d travelled here.”

“It is no secret that Israel sees Sweden's recognition of the state of Palestine as an extremely unfriendly act,” he added, confirming that Wallström would not have been able to meet with Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman or Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu if she visited Israel.

Sweden's Foreign Minister was due to visit Jerusalem (pictured) and Tel Aviv next week. Photo: TT

Sweden's decision to recognize the state of Palestine in late October caused Israel to recall its ambassador to Stockholm, who returned a month later.

Israeli media reported in mid-December that Avigdor Lieberman did not want to meet her.

According to the Swedish foreign ministry, Wallström now plans to travel to Israel later this spring.

By then, the Israeli election will be over and there will be a new government for her to meet.

The Local speaks to Margot Wallström about her decision to recognize Palestine

Mats Samuelsson at the ministry’s press office insisted on Thursday that there were several reasons the trip had been postponed. He didn't mention the apparent cooling of relations between the two countries.

“The timing this week is less suitable for Palestinian President Abbas and Foreign Minister al-Maliki. They are away this week so it fits poorly with their travel schedule. In addition, there's an election campaign in Israel right now and it's never particularly appropriate to go to a country then. The politicians in the country have other things to think about, so to speak," he told Swedish broadcaster SVT.

After news of the row over the cancelled trip made the headlines on Thursday morning, foreign policy spokesperson for Sweden's Moderate party – the largest centre-right opposition group – Karin Enström criticized the government for its handling of relations with the Middle East.

"I see this as an effect of the unskillful handling of the whole issue," she told SVT, arguing that Sweden risked its voice on the peace process "deteriorating" as a result.
The leader of the Liberal Party, Jan Björklund said he believed that Sweden's recognition of Palestine was premature and "neither wise nor constructive".
According to the Palestinian Authority, around 135 countries have recognised the state of Palestine including several that are now EU members.