Palestinians open first Western European Embassy: Is this a big deal?

Palestinians open an embassy in Sweden. Will this help or hurt the statehood effort? 

Jonas Ekstromer/AP
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, right, is welcomed by Swedish King Carl XVI Gustaf upon arrival at the Stockholm Palace on Tuesday. President Abbas is on a one day official visit to Sweden, three months after Sweden became the first European Union member to recognize Palestinian statehood. He thanked Sweden for the gesture.

The Palestinian Authority has opened their first embassy in Western Europe in Sweden on Monday.

Sweden became the first Western European Union-member state, joining 135 out of 193 countries, who have fully or partially recognized a Palestinian state, according to RT. Until the formal announcement, the Palestinian Authority (PA) operated a General Delegation of Palestine in Sweden, based out of Stockholm

“We are extending our hands to a just peace based on the international legitimacy resolutions,” Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said a Stockholm press conference with Sweden’s Prime Minister Stefan Lofven. 

Under the new agreement, Sweden will commit to raising aid to the PA by $180 million over the next five years. However, Prime Minister Lofven said that the commitment comes with a mandate for the Palestinian Authority to preside over a society controlled by the rule of law. The increased funding will be used to fighting corruption, advancing human rights, and gender equality, according to the Times of Israel

“According to our view, Palestine is from now on a state," Prime Minister Lofven said at the press conference. "Therefore our expectations from Palestine and its leaders are going to grow.”

Sweden had officially recognized the Palestinian state this past October, joining Malta, Iceland, and Cyprus as the only other European nations to do so, according to Slate. The Christian Science Monitor reported at the time that the move left Israel upset. Israel has claimed that Palestinian independence can only be realized through inter-party negotiations, and recognition by the United Nations or by individual countries only undermines the peace process, argue Israeli officials. 

Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman called Swedish recognition at the time, "A miserable decision that strengthens the extremist elements and Palestinian rejectionism."

The opening of the Palestinian Embassy in Stockholm is mostly procedural following formal recognition in October. Sweden had been urging its Scandinavian neighbors to follow suit by formally recognizing the Palestinian state, though such a move does not appear to be forthcoming anytime soon, according to the Jerusalem Post.

In December, the European Parliament voted in favor of recognizing Palestine, but this move is largely symbolic, according to Haaretz. The vote was cast on the principle that the Palestinian Liberation Organization recognized the state of Israel in 1993, according to the report. However, most observers say that the bigger statement Europe can make on Palestinian independence is if individual states in the Euro Zone begin to follow Sweden's lead and formally recognizing Palestine.

 The decision to open the embassy, "is an unfortunate consequence of the mistaken policy adopted by the Swedish government," Foreign Ministry spokesman Emmanuel Nachshon, told the Jerusalem Post. "It will serve no purpose and certainly not advance us in the pursuit of negotiations.” 

The Parliaments of Spain, Ireland, Great Britain and France have all voted to recognize Palestine, against the will of the Israelis, according to a separate story from RT. 

Relations between Israel and Sweden are still tender because Israel was not in favor of the formal establishment of a Palestinian embassy in a prominent EU-member state. President Abbas' visit to the Scandinavian country comes a month following a senior Israeli official barring Swedish Foreign Minister Margot Wallstroem, from any official visits to the country, according to the Times of Israel.

“It does not make us happy to see (Abbas) here on a visit with a new government that very quickly decided to recognize Palestine,” Israeli Ambassador to Stockholm Isaac Bachman told the Times of Israel.  

Ms, Wallstroem said she would seize on Mr. Abbas's visit as an opportunity to revitalize peace talks, according to the Times of Israel.

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