From Recognizing Palestine to Warming Ties With Israel: An Interview With Sweden's Outgoing Prime Minister

In an exclusive interview with Haaretz, Swedish prime minister Stefan Löfven explains his policies on Israel, and reaffirms his support for Holocaust commemoration, better U.S.-Europe relations and a revived Iran nuclear deal

GOTHENBURG, Sweden – Just weeks after Sweden hosted the Malmö International Forum on Holocaust Remembrance and Combating Antisemitism, Stefan Löfven, the country’s prime minister and the driving force behind the forum, is stepping down as head of the Social Democratic party – and the government. While the 64-year-old premier, whose tenure is coming to an end this week after more than seven years, has recently been praised internationally for his role in confronting antisemitism, his policies concerning a host of other issues, both foreign and domestic, have also attracted attention. Among these are his country's unique handling of the coronavirus pandemic, the way it is dealing with challenges posed by a looming refugee crisis in Europe, relations with Iran, and Sweden's recently improved ties with Israel. Talking to Haaretz during a party congress in Gothenburg, Löfven addresses these subjects and offers some initial insight into his political legacy.

It’s recently been announced that you are the recipient of the Aron Isaac Prize that's awarded by the Jewish community in Stockholm for your “efforts to ensure that the victims of the Holocaust are not forgotten and to counter antisemitism and racism in today’s society.” When and why did you decide to make these issues part of your job as prime minister?

“This is a deep conviction that I’ve held all my life, ever since I can remember. When I became prime minister, it was obvious to me that I would take part in Holocaust commemoration, and naturally I met more and more people, I heard more stories and I promised the survivors that I’d do all I could both as prime minister and as a fellow human being. For example, when (Holocaust survivor) Max Safir called me a few years ago and asked me to help found a Holocaust museum in Sweden – that felt like something I could do, so we started a dialogue with survivors and organization and we’re well on our way now (the museum will open next year). Then, when the 20-year anniversary of the Stockholm International Forum on the Holocaust took place, we thought that since these problems still exist, we have to do more.”

Löfven is referring to the 2020 conference of an organization initiated by then-Prime Minister Göran Persson as an international partnership to fight antisemitism and promote Holocaust remembrance, education and research. 21 years later, Löfven created the Malmö forum to continue to address the same problems. “I started with a deep personal conviction,” he stresses, “and the prime ministerial role gave me the possibility to do a lot more”.

Stefan Löfven Photo: Kristian Pohl/Regeringskansliet

Despite the awards and ceremonies, Sweden’s Jewish community still has many unresolved problems. With possible changes in the country’s school system, will it still be possible to have a Jewish school in the country? Will circumcision for religious purposes stay legal? And for how long will hate crimes and bullying of Jewish children and teachers continue in Swedish schools? Has enough been done in these areas? Is there more than just rhetoric?

“It’s true, we do still have problems. That’s why, in the short run, we’re investing more in security. Yes, it will be possible to have Jewish schools in Sweden even if independent religious schools which receive public funding will be prohibited in the future. The Jewish minority is one of our national minorities, which means that its language, culture and schools are protected. [Five minorities are protected by law in Sweden: Jews, the Roma, the Sami people – Sweden’s indigenous inhabitants – Swedish Finns and the residents of the Torne Valley.]. I don’t see any danger for the right to conduct circumcisions since there’s no majority against it. Sure, there are still problems and that’s why the Malmö forum was all about commitments, not about speeches. It was about two kinds of commitments: first, never to forget, which is why different countries undertook to have various memorial events and memorial sites, and second, the fight against antisemitism, which is also about commitments. In our case, this means doing more in schools, investing more in research so that we have a better understanding of the forces behind antisemitism and so on. We want to spread this to other countries, organizations and companies (such as social media companies for example). Everyone can make commitments. Individual schools can commit, more companies can make commitments, sport organizations can make commitments. That’s the way to address these issues".  More than 40 countries and more than 20 international organizations, civil society organizations and private sector giants such as Facebook and Googel participated in the Malmö Forum and made pledges to combat antisemitism and promote Holocaust remembrance.

Löfven has served as prime minister since October 2014. Though born in Stockholm, he grew up in northern Sweden with a foster family, since his biological father died before he was born and his biological mother was unable to raise him. His foster parents were working-class Swedes – the father a lumberjack and factory worker; the mother, a homemaker. After completing his high school and a couple of years of military service in the Swedish Air Force, he became a welder. As a metal worker, he became a trade unionist and worked his way up the ranks until 2005 when he became the head of IF Metall, one of Sweden’s largest and most powerful blue-collar unions. In January 2012, Löfven, who had been active as a young man in the Social Democratic youth league, was elected head of the party at a point when the Social Democrats were in the opposition and suffered a leadership crisis. Löfven became Sweden's Prime-Minister after the 2014 general elections and won a second term four years later, despite the fact that the Social Democrats had their worse showing in over 100 years in those elections. The fact that country's four center-right parties would not cooperate with the populist right-wing Sweden Democrats at the time created a situation in which Löfven was able to form a coalition with the Green Party, bolstered by a left-wing party and a couple of center-right parties. This coalition, still in power, has suffered and still suffers from week support in the parliament and the Social Democrats have had to make painful compromises in order to stay in power. Löfven has often been described as a political survivor and an extremely skillful negotiator who has managed to keep his party afloat despite the tough political landscape.

Last week, during the party gathering in Gothenburg, Löfven’s successor, Finance Minister Magdalena Andersson, was elected. If all goes according to Löfven’s plan, Andersson will be chosen by the Swedish parliament to become prime minister until the 2022 elections. She'll be the first woman ever to hold the job. Her task now is to lead the Social Democratic party to victory. In her first speech as party leader, she chose to stress the core values of her electorate, away from the compromises made by her predecessor. “In the age of global crises, it is obvious to more and more people that the wind is blowing for us Social Democrats, for strong society, for equality,” she said, adding that after decades of privatization, market experiments, weakened worker’s rights and growing social gaps in the interest of private profits, it’s time for common solutions rather than market solutions. In another speech Andersson mentioned Löfven’s efforts to combat antisemitism and promote Holocaust remembrance, and vowed: “Stefan, we will all continue that work.” Löfven himself is confident that she will continue stepping in the path he laid. “This is part of our party’s ideology,” he says. “I’m convinced that my successor as party leader has no different understanding than I do (on these issues).”

Bilateral ties

When it comes to Sweden’s relations with Israel, the start of Löfven’s first term couldn’t have been worse. One of his government’s first steps was the recognition of a Palestinian state. The following year, 2015, in an interview on Swedish TV, then-Foreign Minister Margot Wallström linked that year's jihadist terror attacks in Paris to the Palestinians' plight under Israel's occupation. That comment, and others like it, were viewed in Jerusalem as pro-Palestinian and anti-Israeli in Jerusalem, and led to the recall of ambassadors and freezing of bilateral relations. Indeed, for nearly three years, there were no meetings between the countries' official and Israel repeatedly rebuffed requests by Wallström and Löfven to make more efforts to improve ties. The situation improved slightly toward the end of 2017, but there were no one-on-one meetings between Löfven and Israel’s then-Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, and no high-level contacts between the countries’ foreign ministries. But all that changed last month when Swedish Foreign Minister Ann Linde visited Israel and met with her Israeli counterpart, Yair Lapid. A few days earlier, Israel’s President Isaac Herzog made an online appearance at the Malmö forum.

Was recognizing a Palestinian state a mistake?

Continues here: https://www.haaretz.com/world-news/europe/.premium-sweden-s-pm-likes-warming-ties-with-israel-but-doesn-t-regret-recognizing-palestine-1.10364546

First Phone Call in Seven Years: What's Behind Sweden's New Approach to Israel

After the foreign ministers of Israel and Sweden spoke for the first time in seven years this week, diplomats in Stockholm tell Haaretz what’s prompted the relaunching of relations with the new government in Jerusalem

Published in Haaretz: https://www.haaretz.com/israel-news/.premium-first-phone-call-in-seven-years-what-s-behind-sweden-s-new-approach-to-israel-1.10231586

STOCKHOLM – In what could be labeled a new start for bilateral relations between the two countries, Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid tweeted Monday that he had spoken to his Swedish counterpart Ann Linde, calling it the first conversation in seven years between the respective foreign ministers. According to Lapid, the conversation “symbolizes the relaunching of relations at this level.” He wrote that he appreciated Linde’s statement regarding her country’s “strong and solid commitment to the security of Israel,” and mentioned that in the course of the conversation, Linde also recognized Israel as the homeland of the Jewish people. Lapid added that they discussed Israel’s participation at next month’s Malmö International Forum on Holocaust Remembrance and Combating Antisemitism, and that he is looking forward to “increased cooperation with Sweden on bilateral and multilateral issues.”

Robert Rydberg, Sweden’s deputy minister for foreign affairs, says the timing of the conversation is connected to both sides realizing that the time has come to move forward in a positive direction. “We have strong common interests – there are many issues and aspects that join Sweden and Israel, and we need to cooperate,” he says. “This doesn’t in any way prevent us from having an open discussion about issues we might have different positions on.” Asked whether the move has anything to do with the recently formed government in Jerusalem, Rydberg responds that “sometimes new people in office can help move beyond tensions of the past. This hasn’t been an issue of people or personalities. Nevertheless, people have the opportunity to try to resolve problems, and I think that both our ministers saw that this was an opportunity.”

Anne Linde
Swedish Foreign Minister Ann Linde Credit: REUTERS/Evgenia Novozhenina

Outlining what the foreign ministers discussed, Rydberg says there was also a personal element to the conversation. “They talked about bilateral cooperation and cooperation between the European Union and Israel; they discussed the Middle East, including the Palestinian issue; the upcoming Malmö conference and the struggle against antisemitism. Our foreign minister spoke about her long history and contacts with Israel, and her many Israeli friends. Minister Lapid mentioned – and I must say this was quite emotional – the fact that [the Swedish special envoy in Budapest during World War II] Raoul Wallenberg saved the life of his father [Tommy Lapid]. So that’s a very special connection from his point of view. “Minister Linde mentioned her commitment to the two-state solution and she mentioned Israel being the historic homeland of the Jewish people,” he adds. “She also spoke about issues in which Sweden continues to criticize Israeli policy, including the continued construction of settlements” in the occupied West Bank.

Sweden has been a vocal Western supporter for the formation of a Palestinian state, even though the peace process has been dormant for years, and the Swedish deputy foreign minister stresses his country’s continued commitment to a two-state solution. “We very much hope that one day we will see two peaceful states, Israel and Palestine, living together beside each other in peace and security. That’s our dream and our hope,” he says. While Rydberg says no concrete high-level meetings between the countries’ foreign or prime ministers are planned at this stage, he is looking forward to physical meetings ultimately taking place between the leaders.

Highs and lows

Historically, Israel had excellent relations in its early years with Sweden and other Scandinavian countries. These relations were built on the countries’ left-wing movements that were in power at the time, as well as the connections between their respective professional unions and cooperatives. Good relations were in both sides’ interests in the 1950s and ’60s. Although Sweden had maintained its policy of neutrality during World War II, there were also contradictions within its wartime actions: it supplied Nazi Germany with iron ore for its military, yet also rescued many Jewish refugees. As a result, it was keen to demonstrate its commitment to the newly founded Jewish state. Israel, meanwhile, was looking for allies, especially unaligned allies, during the first years of the Cold War.

Over time, various political developments, both foreign and domestic, caused relations to grow colder. Diplomatic relations reached their nadir in the last decade after a newly formed Swedish government – Prime Minister Stefan Löfven’s first – recognized the Palestinian state in 2014. The following year, in an interview on Swedish TV, then-Foreign Minister Margot Wallström linked the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to that year’s jihadist terror attacks in Paris. That comment, and others, were seen as pro-Palestinian and anti-Israeli in Jerusalem, and led to ambassadors briefly being recalled and relations being frozen between the countries. For nearly three years, there were no official meetings between the countries and Israel repeatedly rebuffed requests by Wallström and Löfven to improve ties.

Relations warmed slightly toward the end of 2017, when two senior Swedish officials came to Israel: then-Parliament Speaker Urban Ahlin and Linde, who was serving as commerce minister at the time. When Löfven visited Israel during the International Holocaust Forum at the start of 2020, it was the first time a Swedish prime minister had made an official visit to Jerusalem since Göran Persson 21 years earlier. However, there were no one-on-one meetings between Löfven and Israel’s then-prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, and no high-level conversations between the countries’ foreign ministers. That all changed Monday with the Lapid-Linde phone call.

Several factors could be driving the renewal of relations. The new Israeli government, led by Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and Lapid, may be eager to show that it is mending damaged diplomatic relations from the Netanyahu era. And in Sweden, Löfven has announced that he won’t be seeking reelection next year, and his government – widely perceived as one of Sweden’s weakest in modern times – could do with an international achievement. It’s holding the Malmö forum on Holocaust remembrance and combating antisemitism in a few weeks, and a formal Israeli embrace of the forum and Sweden’s potential 2022 presidency of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance could be one such achievement.

In Stockholm, meanwhile, the new Israeli ambassador, Ziv Nevo Kulman, is said to be making a positive impression on Swedish officials. Nevo Kulman, whose previous role was head of cultural diplomacy at the Foreign Ministry, released a video on social media in which he talked about the importance of “cultural, scientific and educational cooperation” between Sweden and Israel – as well as mentioning being a member of the Israeli ABBA fan club as a teenager. “I’m happy about the opening of a new page in Israel-Sweden relations,” Nevo Kulman tells Haaretz. “This will allow us to focus on a long list of issues and promote the relations between the two countries.”

Rydberg agrees that, ultimately, the two countries have much in common. “We’re two democratic, economically successful, relatively small countries that dedicate much of their budgets to innovation and research, and share values of individual freedom, gender equality and equal rights irrespective of sexual identity, and many other issues,” he says. “I believe that in the economic, cultural and scientific area, we can do much more together. At the same time, we should, of course, develop our dialogue on political affairs – both related to the Middle East and the situation in Europe and the international scene.”

Sweden Hopes Its First Top-level Visit to Israel in 21 Years Will Thaw Ties

Stockholm is stepping up its efforts against anti-Semitism and hate crimes, as the foreign minister tries to mend relations with Israel. Published in Haaretz: https://www.haaretz.com/israel-news/.premium-sweden-hopes-its-first-top-level-visit-to-israel-in-21-years-will-thaw-ties-1.8468492

STOCKHOLM – Among the dozens of world leaders who landed in Israel last week for the International Holocaust Forum, the presence of Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Löfven was particularly notable. It had been 21 years since a Swedish Prime Minister had visited, and a series of diplomatic incidents in recent years only worsened the atmosphere.

The incidents included the recognition of a Palestinian state by Löfven’s government and then-Foreign Minister Margot Wallström’s linking of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to terror attacks in Paris. For nearly three years after Wallström’s comments in 2015, there were no official meetings between the two countries, with Israel repeatedly rebuffing requests by Wallström and Löfven to improve ties.

But at the end of 2017, two senior Swedish officials came to Israel: then-Parliament Speaker Urban Ahlin and then-Commerce Minister Ann Linde, who is now foreign minister. Also, Israel named a new ambassador to Stockholm, Ilan Ben-Dov, who a Swedish Foreign Ministry source says brought “a new atmosphere and approach” to bilateral relations.

Like Göran Persson, who served as Swedish prime minister from 1996 to 2006 and was considered a friend of Israel, Löfven is striving to turn Sweden into a world leader in Holocaust commemoration and the battle against anti-Semitism. At the same time, Stockholm continues to address the Palestinian issue, support the Palestinian Authority and promote the two-state solution when most of the world seems to have lost interest.

“The government stands behind the recognition of Palestine,” Linde told Haaretz last week. “The recognition was done in support of a negotiated two-state solution; one State of Israel and one State of Palestine,” she said, adding that support for the two-state solution is solid in the EU, which, like Sweden, supports the Palestinians and donates to them.

“I am very clear about my sincere ambition to further deepen and broaden the relationship with Israel,” she added. “I will continue to strive for this. We must be able to maintain an international law-based foreign policy and at the same time have a very good and constructive relationship with Israel.”
Arson and other attacks

Linde is also unequivocal about the fight against anti-Semitism. “Sweden remains deeply committed to the international fight against anti-Semitism,” she said. Asked about anti-Semitic remarks, including in her Social Democratic Party, she said: “Criticism against the Israeli government’s actions can be motivated, as against any other state, but it is never acceptable to use anti-Semitic stereotypes or to question Israel’s right to exist.”

“It could be bullying on social media and in some cases, physical attacks, even if it’s not very common,” said Aron Verständig, president of the Official Council of Swedish Jewish Communities. Firebombs have been thrown at the Gothenburg synagogue and the Malmo cemetery. There have also been arson attacks, swastika graffiti, violent demonstrations by neo-Nazis and other harassment of Jews.

These include, amongst other incidents, the Jewish cultural center in the city of Umeå closing down after receiving neo-Nazi threats, media attention which was turned towards a Jewish doctor who suffered discrimination and abuse at Stockholm’s Karolinska University Hospital and many reports of threats, harassment and cursing at Jewish teenagers, younger children and teachers in Sweden’s schools.

But there has also been greater interest in the Holocaust and the recognition that its memory must be preserved. Over the past year numerous events in the country have focused on Holocaust commemoration and the fight against anti-Semitism. Notably, the Living History Forum, a Swedish government authority, teaches against racism and anti-Semitism and an organization named “Jewish Culture in Sweden” preserves the legacy of the Holocaust by arranging various cultural events.

The Swedish government is determined to show that it takes the issue seriously. Linde spoke about a number of steps like efforts by the Swedish police to increase funding and staffing against hate crimes, and investments in protecting Jewish institutions and other sites likely to be targets. The government has also initiated legislation against racist groups and is improving enforcement and the prosecution of hate crimes.

Efforts also include visits by legislators and school students to Auschwitz, while the Swedish education minister is cooperating with the Yad Vashem memorial and museum in Jerusalem. The Swedes are also considering building their own Holocaust museum.

For now the highlight is the Malmö International Forum on Holocaust Remembrance and Combating Anti-Semitism, which is scheduled for October. Löfven has invited researchers, world leaders and other representatives from some 50 countries to plan steps to help preserve the memory of the Holocaust and fight anti-Semitism. Also, last week Löfven announced that Sweden is adopting the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s definition of anti-Semitism.

Aron Verständig, president of Sweden’s Official Council of Swedish Jewish Communities, would like to see an even larger investment in Jewish life in Sweden but he says cooperation with the government is good. “lately it’s doing good things like arranging the international conference in Malmö and creating a new Holocaust museum”, he said.

Still, the Israeli government doesn’t seem very impressed, and ties between the countries remain cool. During his visit to Jerusalem last week Löfven didn’t meet a single Israeli official, though, granted, he wasn’t the only leader who didn’t hold meetings outside the Holocaust forum.

Foreign Minister Linde, for one, isn’t discouraged. “There is no reason why we could not have a fully normal relationship given the long-standing friendly relations between our two countries and plenty of common interests such as innovation, gender equality and the important struggle against anti-Semitism,” she said. “The prime minister’s visit to Jerusalem this week proves how important the work on combating anti-Semitism is for the Swedish government. The fact that we have different views on certain other issues should not prevent dialogue, but rather makes dialogue even more important.

Why did Sweden recognize Palestine?

Published in i 24 News: http://www.i24news.tv/en/opinion/49502-141102-analysis

Last week most people who are interested in the Israeli – Palestinian conflict struggled to understand what the Swedish government was trying to achieve by recognizing a Palestinian state. The recognition seemed to come out of the blue, with no international support and little chance of making a difference. Independent states need recognized borders, a currency, an infrastructure and an army. The Palestinians have none of these and no Swedish statement can change that. Middle East politics, after all, are not a new-age seminar – you can't just wish states into existence.

On the other hand, while peace negotiations are at a standstill and the sides are still licking their wounds after another bloody war in Gaza, Sweden's new government claims it's time to try a new approach. Margot Wallström, Sweden's FM, said at a press conference last week that Sweden isn't taking the Palestinian side, rather it's taking the side of the peace process. "This will make the parties less unequal", she said, "and we're still hopeful that they will return to the negotiating table". Basing the move on historical precedents (like Kosovo) and on the fact that more than 130 countries have already recognized Palestine she added: "we are supporting moderate Palestinian forces and contributing to hope at a time when tensions are increasing and no peace talks are taking place".

Israel, as expected, sees this move as biased and hostile and now there is a serious crisis in the relationship between the two countries. But should Israelis really see Sweden's recognition of a Palestinian state in such a negative light? Does it really have to drive a wedge between the two countries?

First and foremost it must be said that Israel's biggest fear, the fear of other countries following Sweden, wasn't realized. Though Wallström claimed Sweden is "proud to lead the way" for other countries, this didn't happen. So far even the Swedish parliament has shown a strong opposition to the move and the Prime Ministers of the other Nordic countries aren't eager to follow. In a summit in Stockholm last week they all announced that although they're committed to a two state solution they're not ready to recognize a Palestinian state just yet.

"We believe there should be an agreement on a two state solution before we recognize a Palestinian state" said Norway's PM, and Denmark and Finland's PMs agreed entirely. So policy makers in Jerusalem don't need to worry too much about a domino effect yet. The ambassador in Stockholm was recalled in order to show other countries that the price for recognizing Palestine at this point is high, but it's unlikely that either Berlin or Paris will go where even Copenhagen and Oslo won't.

Then there's the money trail. When Swedish-Israeli relations come up in the press it's usually about an Israeli scientist coming to Stockholm to receive a Nobel Prize, a hate crime in Malmö or a Swedish activist arrested in the West Bank. These stories attract lots of traffic on news websites so they're popular subjects for public debate. But there's a deeper and less discussed side to the relationship between the two countries.

During the last few years Israeli and Swedish researchers, business-people and entrepreneurs have been cooperating more than ever. Sweden and Israel share many attributes that make joint ventures attractive to both sides. They have a similar sized population, their economies depend on exports and they're amongst world's 20 leading countries in research and development per capita. Research institutes and hospitals in the two countries are now strategic partners while CEOs from both countries' leading companies, industrial leaders and cyber and weapons developers travel regularly on the Tel-Aviv – Stockholm line. One Swedish admirer of the way Israel invests in innovation wrote an article a few months ago in the Swedish press about his "inspiration from methods used in Israel". The writer's name is Stefan Löfven, and he's Sweden's new PM. His approach is not exactly the sign of an anti-Israel BDS activist.

Will the close relationship in these areas change as a result of the latest crisis? Probably not. Anyone digging deeper than the amusing metaphor of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as a piece of IKEA furniture will find a surprising stability in Sweden-Israel relations. "We can continue with trade, innovation, technology and sciences" said Israel's ambassador to Sweden in a TV interview last Thursday. Sweden's FM couldn’t agree more. "We are hopeful that our excellent cooperation will continue in all areas including trade and economic cooperation". She said in a Stockholm press conference.

So, all in all, it seems that although the Swedish statement sparked a diplomatic crisis, its actual effect is limited. It didn't do much for the Palestinians, it didn't lead the way for other countries to recognizing Palestine – and the Swedes don’t even intend to open an embassy in Ramallah. The Swedish recognition certainly didn't persuade Israel's government to stop building settlements and it may not even have a lasting effect on bilateral relations between the two countries.

So why did they do it? The Swedish government isn't naïve. Nor, as many Israelis suggested, is it influenced by Sweden's increasing Muslim population. That's not how Swedish politics work. The truth is that the Swedish statement is just as much for domestic consumption as it is for world diplomacy and it should be seen in the right historical perspective. The Social-Democratic party, which returned to power after eight years in opposition, is proud of its foreign policy history which it claims aims not only to serve Swedish interests but also to make the world a better place. In a press conference with foreign correspondents FM Wallström spoke of needing "courage to be a government in these difficult times" which indicates that recognizing Palestine is actually a party statement meaning: We're back in town and we're still serious about human rights, freedom and peace on earth.

But it's not all about ideals. As many analysts suggested, the new government leans on a very narrow parliamentary coalition and recognizing Palestine can be seen as an attempt by the Social-Democrats to please their left wing partners while in other areas they're busy negotiating with the right. Sweden has far bigger policy concerns than the Middle-East and a quick, bold move on the Palestinian front gives the new government political leverage on more important issues such as defense spending, healthcare, jobs and education.

This may all seem like a rather cynical analysis of the issue, but what it actually means is that the bad blood between Israel and Sweden is the result of a specific political environment which won't last forever.

Israeli disapproval aside, there's something to be said about Sweden's ethical and practical approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Its will to engage in a region that most other countries have given up on is admirable and it isn't simply empty rhetoric. FM Wallström announced last Thursday that Sweden is to considerably increase foreign-aid for so called "state building" from just under 70 million USD to over 200 million USD in five years, this in addition to Sweden's substantial humanitarian aid to the Palestinians.

With all this good will, if Sweden acts carefully and does not alienate Israel, it could be exactly what the region needs – an impartial and unaligned international partner, which sends humanitarian assistance when needed and engages in international funding and assurances for a lasting, stable and fair peace in the future. Although it doesn’t look like it now, Sweden, with its activism, its economic stability and strong international status could in fact be part of the solution.

It's interesting to point out that one of the most important breakthroughs in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict took place in another Scandinavian capital, Oslo, twenty years ago. If Sweden and Israel don't fall into a spiral of aggressive statements, boycotts and confrontations, who knows – perhaps the next stage in the peace process could be the Stockholm Accord.