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Sweden recognizes Palestinian state

AFP , Thursday 30 Oct 2014
Margot Wallström, the Swedish foreign minister Oct. 4, 2014 (Photo: Reuters)
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Sweden on Thursday officially recognised the state of Palestine, becoming the first western EU member to do so, in a move the Palestinians hailed as "historic" and Israel denounced as "deplorable."

"Today the government takes the decision to recognise the state of Palestine," Swedish Foreign Minister Margot Wallstroem wrote in the mass-circulation Dagens Nyheter daily, less than a month after the country's new prime minister announced the government's plans to make the controversial move.

"It is an important step that confirms the Palestinians' right to self-determination," she said, adding that "we hope that this will show the way for others."

The move comes as Israeli-Palestinian tensions soar in Jerusalem following months of almost daily clashes in the city's occupied eastern part.

Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas immediately hailed Stockholm's decision as "brave and historic" and called for others to follow suit.

"All countries of the world that are still hesitant to recognise our right to an independent Palestinian state based on 1967 borders, with east Jerusalem as its capital, (should) follow Sweden's lead," his spokesman quoted him as saying.

Israel's foreign minister meanwhile denounced the move, saying it would undermine efforts to resolve the conflict.

"The decision of the Swedish government to recognise a Palestinian state is a deplorable decision which only strengthens extremist elements and Palestinian rejectionism," Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said in a statement.

Sweden's new Prime Minister Stefan Loefven, a Social Democrat, announced in his inaugural address to parliament in early October that his country would become the first EU member in western Europe to recognise a Palestinian state.

While the Palestinians cheered the move, Israel summoned Sweden's ambassador to protest and express disappointment.

The United States cautioned Sweden against recognition, calling it "premature" and saying the Palestinian state could only come through a negotiated solution between Israelis and Palestinians.

Israel has long insisted that the Palestinians can only receive their promised state through direct negotiations and not through other diplomatic channels.

Seven EU members in eastern Europe and the Mediterranean have already recognised a Palestinian state -- Bulgaria, Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Malta, Poland and Romania. Non-EU member Iceland is the only other western European nation to have done so.

Wallstroem, in Thursday's opinion piece, said that there were some "who will maintain that today's decision comes too early."

"I'm afraid it comes too late," she wrote. "The government will now have to work with the other EU countries as well as the United States and other regional and international actors for the support of new negotiations."

In Thursday's announcement, Sweden's foreign minister said that "the government considers that international law criteria for recognition of a Palestinian state have been fulfilled."

Observers said it was too early to tell if the Swedish step would prompt other countries to make similar moves.

"It's really hard to say how many countries will actually take the plunge and follow Sweden," said Michael Schulz, an expert on the Middle East and conflict issues at the University of Gothenburg.

"For the EU to recognise Palestine, that would require all member states to agree, so it's unlikely," he said, estimating that Stockholm's decision "shouldn't change much" over the short term.

"We must see how Israel will react if they will continue their policy of settlement or if they will instead be more cautious."

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