Friday, September 22, 2006

Sweden and Israel: a New Chapter?

With the defeat of Sweden's Social Democrat government in Sunday's election, and the return of the centre-right, Sweden's foreign policy is likely to undergo some changes, not least in the area of the Middle East. The new political alignment in Sweden has been noted with some satisfaction in Israel, where the Social Democrats' antagonistic policies towards the country, being almost exclusively pro-Arab and anti-Israel, have caused much anger and displeasure.

In the Jerusalem Post, Herb Keinon notes that some officials in Jerusalem are privately delighted by the new turn of events, and hold out hopes for the future of Swedish-Israeli relations. Israel's former ambassador to Stockholm, Zvi Mazel,
said that the centerright parties, headed by 41-year-old prime minister designate Fredrik Reinfeldt, who ousted Prime Minister Goran Persson, made supportive comments about Israel while in the opposition.

"We had good relations with them in the past, and hope it will continue," Mazel said.

Mazel - who in 2004 wrecked a display at the Museum of National Antiquities in Stockholm that glorified a suicide bomber - said that Sweden has for years been among the most critical countries in the EU towards Israel, along with Ireland and France.

He said that the new government was likely to bring Sweden's Middle East policy from the far left into the center in the EU, and that he believed the new government's public declarations about Israel and the Middle East would be far less critical.

Mazel's optimism was shared by Gunnar Hokmark, a Swedish member of the European parliament from one of the central-right Swedish parties. Hokmark, chairman of the Israel-Swedish Friendship League, said from Brussels that he thought the new government would "chart a more balanced policy," toward Israel.

According to Hokmark, the new government was likely to "be more focused on the support for democracy development in the Middle East."

Although foreign policy played almost no role in the elections, Hokmark said Reinfeld had made some comments in the campaign for the need for stable regimes in Syria and Lebanon.

One senior official in Jerusalem said that although it was hard to say whether there would be a dramatic change in Stockholm's policies, "there is definitely an opportunity now to turn a new page. The social democrats went that extra mile in their criticism of Israel," the official said. Over the last few years, he added, Sweden has distinguished itself in being more critical of Israel than about any other European country.
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