Sweden recognizes Palestinian state as UN fails to condemn Israeli settlements

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A partial view taken on October 29, 2014 shows cranes used to construct new buildings in the Israeli settlement of Har Homa, which was originally built in the 1990s, in the annexed East Jerusalem area of Jabal Abu Ghneim. (Photo: AFP - Ahmad Gharabli)

Published Thursday, October 30, 2014

Updated at 4:00 pm (GMT +2): Sweden on Thursday officially recognized the state of Palestine, Stockholm's foreign minister said, less than a month after the government announced its intention to make the move and one day after UN Security Council failed to condemn Israeli settlement plans.

"Our decision comes at a critical time because over the last year we have seen how the peace talks have stalled, how decisions over new settlements on occupied Palestinian land have complicated a two-state solution and how violence has returned to Gaza," Swedish Foreign Minister Margot Wallstrom told reporters.

"By making our decision we want to bring a new dynamic to the stalled peace process."

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas hailed the decision, his spokesman told AFP.

"President Abbas welcomes Sweden's decision," Nabil Abu Rudeina told AFP, saying the Palestinian leader described the move as "brave and historic."

Sweden is the first EU member state in western Europe to recognize Palestine.

European countries are stepping up the pressure on Israel to seek a peace deal, with the British and Irish parliament recently holding a non-binding vote on recognizing statehood.

Abu Rudeina claimed that Sweden’s recognition was linked to months of soaring tensions in occupied East Jerusalem, where Palestinians have clashed almost daily with Israeli Occupation Forces and where Israel has recently pushed ahead with plans to build another 3,600 settler homes.

"This decision comes as a response to Israeli measures in Jerusalem," he said.

Meanwhile, Israel's Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman on Thursday denounced the Swedish government's recognition of a Palestinian state as "deplorable", saying it would undermine efforts to resolve the conflict.

"The decision of the Swedish government to recognize a Palestinian state is a deplorable decision which only strengthens extremist elements," he claimed in a statement.

"It is a shame that the Swedish government chose to take this declarative step which causes a lot of harm and offers no advantage," he said.

"The Swedish government must understand that relations in the Middle East are a lot more complex than the self-assembly furniture of IKEA and that they have to act with responsibility and sensitivity."

Wallstrom rejected accusations that Sweden was taking sides and she hoped other EU countries would follow Sweden's lead.

No Security Council statement condemning Israel

The Palestinians urged the UN Security Council on Wednesday to demand that Israel immediately reverse plans to build more Zionist settlements, at an emergency meeting called to address tensions in occupied East Jerusalem.

The 15-nation council met for urgent talks at Jordan’s and Palestine’s request after Israel announced plans on Monday to build 1,000 new settler homes in East Jerusalem.

However, no resolution was adopted and there was no Security Council statement condemning Israel.

"Israel, the occupying power, must be demanded to cease immediately and completely its illegal settlement activities throughout the occupied Palestinian territory, including East Jerusalem," Palestinian ambassador Riyad Mansour told the council.

Mansour said he was disappointed that the council had failed to issue a statement but praised members for speaking forcefully against Israeli settlements.

Speaking to the council, top UN official Jeffrey Feltman said the Israeli practice of moving settlers to Palestinian territories was "in violation of international law" and runs counter to a two-state solution of a Palestinian state alongside Israel.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is "alarmed" by the latest plans for new Israeli settlements which "once again raise grave doubts about Israel's commitment to achieving durable peace," Feltman told the council.

Israel's ambassador Ron Prosor shot back, rejecting suggestions that settlement building jeopardized peace and accusing the UN of "playing second fiddle" to a Palestinian "campaign to vilify" his country.

"There are many threats in the Middle East, but the presence of Jewish homes is not one of them," Prosor told the council.

Speaking to reporters outside council chambers, Prosor insisted the settlements were "not illegal" and that "building housing units in Jerusalem for children in places where there are Jewish neighborhoods is something that we will continue to do."

Besides the 1,000 new settler homes, Israel has recently approved the construction of more than 2,600 settler homes in East Jerusalem.

More than 500,000 Israeli settlers live in settlements across the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, in contravention of international law.

Israel occupied East Jerusalem and the West Bank during the 1967 Six-Day War. It later annexed the city of Jerusalem in 1980, claiming it as the capital of the self-proclaimed Zionist state – a move never recognized by the international community.

US, European countries “condemn” Israeli settlements

Even though there was no Security Council statement condemning the Israeli violations, Israel came under strong criticism from several countries, which called for an end to unilateral actions including settlement expansions.

The US representative David Pressman told the council "settlement activity will only further escalate tensions at a time that is already tense enough.”

British Ambassador Mark Lyall Grant warned that ongoing construction of Zionist settlements in Palestinian territories "makes it much more difficult for Israel's friends to defend it against accusations that it is not serious about peace."

French Ambassador Francois Delattre said "the risk of an explosion of uncontrolled violence in Jerusalem and the West Bank cannot be ignored" and called on Israel to drop the planned settlement.

Russian Ambassador Vitaly Churkin said the plan should be "frozen" and urged the council to play a more pro-active role to jump-start Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.

On Wednesday, the Spanish government expressed its regret at the settlements plan. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement that the decision "does not reflect the formally accepted target of negotiating with the Palestinians to seek a peaceful, global and lasting solution based on two states."

The ministry also reiterated its position, shared by the international community, that all forms of Israeli settlement construction in occupied Palestinian territories are illegal.

Israel's latest push for settlements followed weeks of clashes between Palestinian youths and police in East Jerusalem over fears that Israel wanted to restrict access to the al-Aqsa mosque, Islam's third holiest site.

Feltman called for a de-escalation, saying that both sides "can ill-afford" to inflame tensions so soon after the devastating Gaza war, which left more than 2,000 Palestinians dead.

In a draft resolution circulated, the Palestinian Authority set November 2016 as the deadline for ending the Israeli withdrawal from the territories occupied by Israel during the Six-Day War in 1967 and establishing a two-state solution.

It is worth noting that numerous pro-Palestine activists argue in favor of a one-state solution, arguing that the creation of a Palestinian state beside Israel would not be sustainable. They add that the two-state solution, which is the only option considered by international actors, won't solve existing discrimination, nor erase economic and military tensions.

(AFP, Ma’an, Al-Akhbar)

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