Sweden has recognized the State of Palestine, the country’s foreign minister has announced, making it the first European Union country to do so. The 130 other nations that already recognize a Palestinian State include Hungary, Slovakia and Poland although these three countries took this step before joining the EU.
“Today, the government takes the decision to recognize the state of Palestine,” Margot Wallstrom said in a Thursday statement. “It is an important step that confirms the Palestinians’ right to self-determination.”
Thursday’s declaration was not unexpected; newly-elected Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Lofven announced during his swearing-in speech earlier this month that it would come, although few observers anticipated a formal announcement so soon.
Israel has protested Sweden’s decision and the Israeli Foreign Ministry summoned the Swedish ambassador shortly after Lofven’s statement. Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman called Wallström’s announcement on Thursday “unfortunate” and said it would only serve to reinforce extremist elements.
Palestinians are seeking to create a state in the Israeli-occupied West Bank and in Gaza, with East Jerusalem as their capital. They demand also that Israel withdraws from occupied Palestinian territories. With the near collapse of direct peace negotiations with Israel, Palestinian authorities have been trying to lobby the international community to recognize Palestinian sovereignty.
The UN General Assembly voted in 2012 to upgrade Palestine’s status to that of a non-member observer, giving Palestinian officials access to UN agencies, but European Union countries had – until Sweden’s announcement – not given their full recognition of a Palestinian state.
“Today’s recognition is a contribution to a better future for a region that has for too long been characterized by frozen negotiations, destruction and frustration,” Wallstrom wrote in the Dagens Nyheter newspaper. “Some will state this decision comes too soon. I am afraid, rather, that it is too late.”
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said he welcomed the announcement shortly after it was made on Thursday morning and called on other countries to follow Sweden’s example. Communicating via his spokesman, Abbas found the decision “brave and historic.”