Contributors to this site have long observed and commented upon the emergence of one major, likely decisive, development in the history of the conflict between Palestinians and Zionists in Palestine/Israel. Sometime around 2008 the American monopoly on the conflict’s management began to splinter. Condoleezza Rice’s memorable abstention from voting on UNSC Resolution 1860, and Ehud Olmert’s subsequent crowing, may have heralded the change. Possibly, it was the shocking savagery of Israel’s massacre in 2008/2009; America’s apparent inability to stop the slaughter may have forced an internal reckoning in Western European capitals. Whatever, it is now true that few interested governments are prepared to trust Congress (which crafts foreign policy on Palestine, after all) to work in good faith to end the conflict. A fact underscored by Washington’s impotence in the face of Israel’s latest massacre in Gaza.
The thinly-reported news out of Sweden reinforces that perception. On Friday Oct. 3rd, Stefan Löfven’s new government announced that the country would be the first EU member-state to formally recognize Palestine, a move that precedes an Oct. 13 vote by British MPs on whether to adopt a similar policy.
Tel Aviv’s response was unusually lame and half-hearted. The droopy announcement that the Swedish ambassador had been summoned for consultation seemed laden with resignation. Avigdor Lieberman, Israel’s Foreign Minister and leader of the fascist Yisrael Beitenu party, strangely and uncharacteristically suggested that negotiations were the way forward:
“The Swedish prime minister needs to understand that any declaration and any step by an external element will not be an alternative to direct negotiations between the sides and to a solution that is part of an inclusive arrangement between Israel and the Arab world,” Lieberman added. “If what concerned the Swedish prime minister in his inaugural speech was the situation in the Middle East, he should have focused on the morning burning issues in the region, like the daily mass murder happening in Syria, Iraq and other places in the region.”
Sweden’s recognition is meaningful for two reasons. As a well-regarded participant and leader on many global moral challenges, the country’s decision telegraphs and legitimates a normative shift. Israel is no longer regarded as working hard to find a friendly guide through the wilderness. Rather, it is willfully and intently pursuing criminal policies with black-razor determination. There is no tragedy here; there is only malice.
The second benefit goes directly to the way in which Sweden’s move makes BDS accessible to national governments. The practice of foreign policy can sometimes be conservative, rules-driven, and evolutionary in nature. Obama’s refusal to identify the Sisi coup in Egypt as such was primarily about avoiding a legally-mandated set of actions. Similarly, by recognizing Palestine Löfven enables radical activism through a different set of rules-bound channels. Palestine, which will never be a real country, will have its claims recognized in state-to-state forums. A modestly more competent and courageous set of leaders – admittedly a tall order for the Palestinians – will be free to pursue sanctions and censure thereafter.
It is an eventuality that Lieberman cannot but observe and contemplate. Sidelong glances at Putin’s Russia must underline the times’ ill portents for the Moldovan.