DN Debatt

”Unilateral Swedish moves will not promote a solution”

The new Swedish government's announcement that Sweden is to recognize a Palestinian state worsens the state of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. This undue focus on this particular conflict is not just imbalanced, it is fundamentally unfair, Israel's foreign minister Avigdor Liberman writes in an op-ed exclusively for Dagens Nyheter.

I was very disappointed to learn of Prime Minister’s Löfven’s announcement regarding Sweden’s intention to recognize a Palestinian state. Such a unilateral move will not promote a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. On the contrary, it will worsen matters.

This announcement was not intended to serve as a genuine solution to a foreign problem. It was intended, so it seems, to placate a certain sector in Swedish public opinion. It is to be regretted when internal considerations determine a counterproductive and irresponsible foreign policy.

With the entire Middle East aflame, not to mention other regions in the world experiencing strife and instability, the undue focus on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict runs counter to all logic. Beyond reflecting internal matters, it seems that this focus serves to compensate for the many failings that the organized international community has encountered in attempting to resolve the many complex problems on the global agenda. For some reason, five words are spoken of time and again as both an imperative and as a magical solution to many other problems in the region: ‘resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.’

Indeed?

In recent years the Middle East has been swept by an ocean of violence and bloodshed, none of which has anything to do with Israel or the Palestinians. Three years of civil war in Syria have seen over 200,000 Syrians lose their lives. Iraq is on the verge of disintegration and since the toppling of Sadaam Hussein has witnessed over 130,000 Iraqi citizens killed. Libya has already broken apart, its revolution resulting in some 15,000 Libyans killed. In Darfur some 400,000 people have been killed since 2003 and since the eruption of civil war in South Sudan in 2013, some 10,000 people have lost their lives.

Since Hassan Rouhani’s assumption of office, over 800 Iranians have been executed by the Iranian regime, including journalists, poets, intellectuals and women accused of ‘immodesty’. Where is Sweden’s outrage? Where is the call for an urgent solution to this burning matter?

In addition, as the world has witnessed all too vividly in recent weeks, fanatic terrorist organizations such as ISIS, Al-Qaeda, Islamic Jihad, Hezbollah and Hamas have been committing countless atrocities, some of them even aspiring to acquire weapons of mass destruction.

Now what of all these appalling developments is emphasized in the statement of Prime Minister Löfven? The Israeli-Palestinian issue. This is not merely a matter of imbalance. It is a matter of fundamental unfairness.

This is underscored by the silence with regard to Israelis’ human rights. Where is Sweden’s concern for the millions of Israelis who have been subjected for years on end to waves of terrorism and to thousands of rocket attacks?

These reflections are not intended to downplay the hardship of innocent victims wherever they may be. Every innocent person who is harmed is a source of sorrow. But they are intended to reveal the hypocrisy of focusing disproportionately on the Palestinians, when much of the world around us is blazing.

The singling out of Israel – an act of basic injustice and one which does damage to the chance of advancing genuine dialogue – is the source of our disappointment with Prime Minister Löfven’s announcement.

Moreover, this announcement utterly ignores simple facts which underscore that responsibility for the impasse in the political process lies squarely with the Palestinian side.

Since its establishment, Israel has made tremendous strides in order to achieve peace with its neighbors. Israel, with an area only 5% that of Sweden, signed peace agreements with Egypt and Jordan, as well as the Oslo Accords with the Palestinians. Until today, Israel has given up land three times the size of its current territory (the Sinai Peninsula, Gaza and close to 50% of Judea and Samaria). Moreover, as demonstrated in these instances, settlements have never been an obstacle to peace.

Where in history is there a similar example with such striking numerical proof of a country’s willingness to compromise?

Two Israeli governments tried in recent years to reach a final status agreement with the Palestinians, displaying a willingness to concede most of Judea and Samaria, to divide Jerusalem and to engage on the refugee matter.

In August 2000, former Prime Minister Ehud Barak offered Yasser Arafat terms for an agreement which addressed all of the PLO’s demands to the point of being in excess of the utmost Israel could ever offer. Arafat refused.

In 2008, former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert offered Mahmoud Abbas terms which again addressed all of the ostensible demands of the Palestinians. Abbas refused.

These examples are not a new development. In November 1947, United Nations Resolution 181 called to partition the disputed land into a Jewish state and an Arab state. Then too, we accepted the compromise proposal, despite the fact that it entailed a very painful concession. The Arab side refused. Today the Palestinians even refuse to recognize Israel as a “Jewish state”, a term that the UN itself proposed some seven decades ago.

To anyone fair-minded, the pattern is unavoidably clear: Israel has repeatedly demonstrated its support for compromise through painful concessions. The Palestinians have consistently refused.  

During the recent clash in Gaza, many of Israel’s critics ignored the fact that already in August 2005, Israel withdrew completely from Gaza to the last millimeter of the 1967 lines, evacuating 21 flourishing settlements and uprooting thousands of Israeli citizens from their homes, many of them second and third generation residents. Which country in the world has ever undertaken a similar step towards its citizens in order to achieve peace with its neighbors?

Our hope then was that this painful concession would result in peaceful relations and economic cooperation. Is this what we obtained? The dismal answer is no. Instead of peace, we have the terror regime of Hamas and some 18,000 missiles and mortar shells fired on our towns and civilians, including this past summer.

We can be forgiven for wondering how the Government of Sweden would react were it to be attacked with thousands of deadly rockets against its citizens.

In addition, we are troubled by the serious questions surrounding Mahmoud Abbas’ ability to truly represent the Palestinian people. For over four years, Abbas has postponed parliamentary and presidential elections in the clear knowledge, as consistently revealed in opinion polls, that he would not be elected should they be held. Of what value is an agreement signed with an individual who doesn’t enjoy the support of his people? What manner of durability and stability could emerge from such an agreement? These are weighty questions which need to be carefully considered.

Do those who support unilateral measures really believe that the Israeli government – any Israeli government – could abandon the security of its citizens and Israel’s vital national interests just because someone outside the region believes, wrongly, that endorsing the Palestinian position will resolve the conflict? Would the Swedish government be willing to abandon the interests of its citizens due to external attempts to impose conditions in a matter of national importance? I believe the answer is clear.

Friendly governments do not act so as to undermine the national security of their friends and do not presume to know better than their friends how they should contend with the many challenges they face. The Swedish government would do well to rethink its intention to act in this way towards its friend Israel. In doing so, it will not only correct an unfortunate error, it will contribute to the promotion of an agreed upon settlement to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.