By Sarah Taylor
This October, Sweden’s prime minister (Stephan Löfven) announced that his country would officially recognize Palestine as an official state. It joins 130 countries around the world that have already recognized Palestine. However, Sweden is the first European Union country to do so while also a member of the European Union. Poland, Hungary, and Slovakia are current E.U. members who have also recognized Palestine, but they did so before they became E.U. members. Mr. Lofven, from the country’s Social Democratic party, announced his plans to recognize within his first month in office. He told the New York Times that he hopes the move will promote peace between Israel and Palestine, as he supports a “two-state solution”: the creation of two separate states, one for Israel and one state for Palestine.
Mahmood Abbas, the president of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), called Sweden’s decision brave and historic. Israel’s Foreign Minister, Avigdor Lieberman, met with the Swedish ambassador to Israel immediately after the announcement to express his disappointment at the decision that he said would support extremist elements. Not long after his meeting with the Swedish ambassador, Mr. Lieberman released a statement to the press comparing Sweden’s approach to the peace process to assembling IKEA furniture: “The Swedish government should understand that Middle East relations are more complex than a piece of self-assembled IKEA furniture, and the matter should be handled with responsibility and sensitivity.”
Sweden’s announcement comes after a slew of changes for Palestine on the international stage. In 2012 the United Nations voted 137 to 9 to upgrade Palestine to observer-state status. This means that Palestine, while it does not have the right to vote, may attend United Nations meetings as a viable nation-state. The U.S., Israel, and Canada, among other countries, rejected the proposal while 41 countries including Germany, the United Kingdom, and South Korea, abstained from voting altogether.
In the weeks that followed Sweden’s announcement Britain passed a non-binding resolution to grant Palestine diplomatic recognition, even though British Prime Minister David Cameron opposes the resolution. France’s Foreign Ministry hinted that it too would soon have to recognize Palestine, though it did not give a specific date as to when it would do so. Israel worries other countries will follow suit.
The recent trend of Western countries recognizing Palestinian sovereignty gives hope to the on-going peace negotiations mediated by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry. Without sovereign nation status, the Palestinian government has no legitimate role in its own peace negotiations. Any peace deal it negotiated under these conditions would serve as fuel for the fire of the next episode of violence in which more on both sides of the conflict would die. Therefore diplomatic recognition by Western nations, which are involved in peace process, could ensure a more equitable balance of power between the negotiators and eventually ensure an equitable solution to the region’s issues.
Even though peace negotiations have been restarted in the past year, peace continues to elude the region. After this summer’s horrific violence in the Gaza strip, which left thousands dead and wounded as well this week’s attack on a Jewish Synagogue in Jerusalem, the future of the peace negotiations seems uncertain, to say the least.
These are just two events in the saga of violence in the Levant that spans many centuries. Both sides of this conflict, Palestinian and Israeli, have motivation – the deaths of family and friends, destruction of homes, loss of lands – to oppose a peace deal. A clear-cut solution to this complicated issue does not exist. What remains to be seen if any solution exists? In a perfect world, both sides would abandon their eye-for-an-eye approach to conflict resolution that thus far has only led to more death and destruction in favor of a future-looking approach based upon peaceful coexistence and acceptance. No peace deal will heal the deep wounds of loss, anger, and betrayal, but it could ensure that the future relations between the two countries build more bridges and open more borders rather than build walls and fire rockets. However, as long as extremist elements in both Israel and Palestine seek the dissolution of the other, peace negotiations will fail to achieve lasting peace.
Image Source: USA Today