Good news for Swedish-Israeli relations? That’s what I initially thought when Anna Kinberg Batra, the leader of the Swedish Moderate Party and leader of the Swedish opposition, announced that she was going on her first trip to Israel and the Palestinian Territories.
I thought this trip would actually improve things between Sweden and Israel since the Moderate party’s LGBT network Open Moderates (Öppna Moderater) recently called for aid to the Palestinian Authority (PA) to be conditional. The network even called for Sweden to rethink the decision to recognize Palestinian statehood. The statement was made in light of a growing awareness in Sweden of the human rights violations committed by the PA.
So, there was the hope that the Swedish opposition leader would be the voice for a new and fair Swedish position on the PA, Israel and the conflict. However, one of Kinberg Batra’s first statements on Israel was on the settlements, which she said were, ”unacceptable.” After the trip, she continued the criticism of Israel by calling the settlements “illegal.”
While she directed such criticism against Israel, almost no criticism was uttered against the Palestinian Authority. Yes she did say that there is a long way to go to having a democratic state in the Palestinian Territories, but given the criticism against the PA from her own party’s LGBT-network, my expectations were that the LGBT network’s stance indicated which political position the Moderate Party itself represented.
Kinberg Batra told the Swedish newspaper Expressen that she had met with Israel’s Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, but no photos were released from the meeting nor was a statement given from Netanyahu about it either.
However, from the Palestinian Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah’s office in Ramallah, many photos have been released. In one photo, Kinberg Batra is seen smiling while holding Hamdallah’s hand.
Palestinian media such as Maan News reported that the Swedish opposition leader was briefed by Hamdallah on ”the latest Israeli violations against the Palestinian people” which were explained by Palestinian media. They described it as Israeli settlements and Israel’s blockade of Gaza. According to the official PA news agency Wafa, she also met with Azzam al-Ahmad, who is responsible for advancing Fatah’s reconciliation with the terrorist organization Hamas.
Kinberg Batra, according to Wafa, assured al-Ahmad of her Party’s support of the stance of the Swedish government regarding ”the Palestinian cause.” The Palestinian press reported that she also promised future collaboration and coordination between her Party and the Fatah movement on various parliamentary and political issues. Hamdallah expressed appreciation of the Swedish government’s decision to recognize Palestinian statehood.
The Swedish opposition leader’s statement to the Swedish press that she was not there to talk about the Swedish government seems a bit far-fetched, compared to what Palestinian and Israeli media reported. While Wafa reported on her clearly stated support of the Swedish government’s position on the Palestinian cause, Jerusalem Post reported that during her visit to the Knesset, she delivered a message from the Swedish foreign minister Margot Wallström claiming that the minister does not support BDS. If this statement was made, it is good but it needs to be stated publicly. Why was this not mentioned in Swedish press? What are Swedish politicians afraid of exactly?
To begin a diplomatic trip to Israel by stating that settlements are unacceptable, is not indicating a new position towards Israel. It is not telling us that the Moderate Party understands the situation on the ground, nor that they have a realistic approach to the real obstacles to peace in the region: hatred, propaganda, anti-Semitism, and corruption of the PA.
Furthermore the visit to Ramallah, as it has been reported in the media, is not indicating a new position towards the PA. The fact that a Swedish politician from a liberal party met with the Palestinian Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah and Mr. Azzam al-Ahmad is very sad, as those Palestinian politicians have publicly made very controversial statements.
Al-Ahmad has saluted terrorists like Samir Kuntar, a terrorist who has murdered four Israelis, including a 4-year-old Jewish child. He has also stated that armed operations serve the negotiations. Hamdallah has likewise made controversial statements in support of terrorist acts. The Knife Intifada, which many Western leaders have referred to as terrorism, Hamadallah has described it as a ”popular and peaceful struggle.” This is not exactly the kind of Prime Minister you want to collaborate with if you support democratic values and peaceful dialogue.
But according to the official Palestinian media, Kinberg Batra stated that she assured Mr. Al-Ahmad that her party would collaborate with his and Hamdallah’s Fatah Movement, a political party that educates children to violently attack and kill Jews in a so-called “armed struggle” with Israel. The result of European politician’s unconditional collaboration with Fatah is more terrorism, no democracy, and no peace.
Many people in Sweden had hoped for a totally different outcome of the meetings with Knesset and PA politicians. Firstly, many of us expected improved relations between Israel and Sweden. That can only happen if a Swedish minister or a Swedish opposition leader radically changes his or her views of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and adopts a more realistic position on solutions for peace, the PA, and settlements.
Swedish politicians need to show that they are not afraid to tell the truth about the PA. So far, the Moderate party has failed to make the same brave statements about the PA as its LGBT-network, as it appears that such statements have not been reported by the Israeli, Swedish or Palestinian press. I hope the Moderate party and its leadership will sound more like the Open Moderates in the future.
Was the trip however a success in some respects? Yes, the news of the Swedish opposition leader’s visit in Ramallah has been reported by media in undemocratic Arab states like Yemen and Qatar. It also seems like the Moderate Party now has closer cooperation with Fatah. Perhaps that is regarded a success in the new Sweden.