Swedish Parliament Speaker Reaches Out to Israel

YERUSHALAYIM -
Sweden’s parliament, the Riksdag building exterior, from the west, at night.

The speaker of the Swedish parliament Urban Ahlin said Thursday that he hopes his 3-day visit to Israel can improve bilateral relations, which have been strained to the point of non-communication in recent years.

“The purpose of my visit is to show that there’s a big interest in the Swedish side to have a good relationship with Israel,” Urban Ahlin told The Times of Israel. “We think there’s a lot of areas where we could cooperate even better than we do today, such as a trade and IT,” he said.

“For me, Israel is very close to my heart. We’re doing everything we can in the Swedish parliament to highlight issues like the struggle against anti-Semitism,” Ahlin said.

However, the issue of the Palestinians, over which Israel has been infuriated with Sweden, was apparently not ripe for conciliation. He was not apologetic:

“The Swedish government has taken that decision to recognize [Palestine]. That is the policy of Sweden. And it cannot be revoked,” he said. “I don’t think anyone will revoke it, if it even were possible,” he said.

“I am absolutely sure that many people in Sweden realize that recognizing Palestine would upset a lot of Israelis. It would be naive to think otherwise. As speaker, I can also tell you that in the Swedish parliament, from the left to the right, there is strong support of a two-state solution.

“In reality, Israelis really know that Sweden is a steadfast friend of Israel. And we have shown it in history, and we will show it in the future.” He did not say how he knows that Israelis know that Sweden is such a good friend.

Sweden in 2014 became the first Western European nation to recognize a Palestinian state, although Ahlin said that over a hundred countries around the world recognized the Palestinians before Sweden did.

Diplomatic relations worsened further after Sweden’s foreign minister Margot Wallstrom made a series of remarks, including a demand that Israelis be investigated for alleged extrajudicial killings of Palestinians.

Israeli officials retaliated by refusing to meet with Wallstrom on a planned visit in December 2016, which was then cancelled. In September 2017, Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu would not meet with Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Löfven on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly in New York.