STOCKHOLM — Sweden’s new left-leaning government on Thursday recognized a Palestinian state – a move that comes during increased tensions between Arabs and Jews over Israel’s plans to build about 1,000 housing units in east Jerusalem.
The European Union member became the third Western European nation, after Malta and Cyprus, to do so, reflecting growing international impatience with Israel’s nearly half-century control of the West Bank, east Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip.
Foreign Minister Margot Wallstrom said Sweden, fulfilling a promise it had made when the Social Democratic-led government took office earlier this month, made the move because Palestine had met the international law criteria required for such recognition.
“There is a territory, a people and government,” she told reporters in Stockholm.
Israel was quick to condemn Sweden’s announcement, with Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman describing it as “a miserable decision that strengthens the extremist elements and Palestinian rejectionism.”
“It’s a shame that the government of Sweden chose to take a declarative step that only causes harm,” he added.
Hanan Ashrawi, a senior Palestinian official, welcomed the move as “a principled and courageous decision.”
“It is our hope that other EU member states and countries worldwide will follow Sweden’s lead and recognize Palestine before the chances for a two-state solution are destroyed indefinitely,” Ashrawi said.
Israel says Palestinians can gain independence only through peace negotiations, and that recognition of Palestine at the U.N. or by individual countries undermines the negotiating process. Palestinians say Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu isn’t serious about the peace negotiations.
The latest round of U.S.-brokered talks collapsed in April. American officials have hinted that Israel’s tough negotiating stance hurt the talks, and Netanyahu has continued to settle Israelis in the West Bank and east Jerusalem.
More than 550,000 Israelis now live in the two areas, greatly complicating hopes of partitioning the area under a future peace deal. The two territories and the Gaza Strip are claimed by Palestinians for a future state.
While the U.S. and European powers have so far refrained from recognizing Palestinian independence, they have become increasingly critical of Israeli settlement construction. The 28-nation European Union has urged that negotiations to achieve a two-state solution resume as soon as possible.
British lawmakers earlier this month voted in favor of recognizing Palestine as a state.
Associated Press writers Matti Huuhtanen in Helsinki and Karin Laub in Jerusalem contributed to this report.