The diplomatic hype around Sweden’s announcement (and partial retraction) that it would recognize the “State of Palestine” is a storm in a teacup. But it provides an opportunity to ask Sweden and its EU partners three questions that beg a clear answer.
The first is: Why does Swedish diplomacy apply different standards to similar territorial disputes? In December 2012, the Swedish government announced that it had no intention of recognizing the Saharawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR) of Western Sahara. “Sweden’s traditional position regarding the recognition of new countries is based on international criteria: there must be independence, integration and autonomy … The territory must be controlled by the government, and the population must be under its control as well,” a spokesperson for the Swedish foreign ministry stated at the time. The above declaration was admittedly made by a previous Swedish government; but the new government of Stefan Löfven has yet to announce that it intends to apply the same policy to the “State of Palestine” and to the SADR.
Like the SADR, the Palestinian Authority (PA) only partially controls the territory it claims. Despite its putative agreement with Hamas, the PA does not control the Gaza Strip. In the West Bank, its jurisdiction applies to 98% of the Arab population but only to 28% of the territory (with the Hamas coup in Gaza in 2007, the PA lost control of about half the population it claims to represent). Likewise, the SADR government controls about 25% of the territory it claims. Neither Western Sahara nor the West Bank constituted a sovereign and separate state in the past: Western Saran was a Spanish colony until 1975, and the West Bank was part of Jordan until 1967. Both territories are disputed. Clearly, Sweden’s policy is inconsistent.
The second question is: What are the borders of the “State of Palestine?” There never was such a state in the past. In order to be recognized, a state must exist or it must at least have declared its independence. Did a “State of Palestine” ever declare its independence? PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas answered this question in his 2011 speech to the United Nations General Assembly. He explained that the “State of Palestine” applying for full UN membership was the one proclaimed by Arafat in Algiers on November 15, 1988. The Algiers declaration proclaimed “the establishment of the State of Palestine in the land of Palestine with its capital at Jerusalem [sic].” It did not mention borders. Are the borders of the “State of Palestine” those of the former British Mandate? Of the aborted UN partition plan of November 1947? Of the armistice lines delineated in the 1949 Rhodes Agreements between Israel, Jordan, and Egypt? The Swedish government likely means to recognize the “State of Palestine” within the 1949 armistice lines. But the “State of Palestine” itself never designated those lines as its borders.
The third question is: Why recognize the “State of Palestine” without demanding that it renounce its declared intention of turning pre-1967 Israel into a binational state? Two Israeli Prime Ministers agreed to establish a Palestinian state on nearly all of the West Bank and on all of the Gaza Strip: Ehud Barak in July 2000, and Ehud Olmert in May 2008. In both instances, the offer was rejected because of the Palestinian refusal to abandon the so-called right of return. In 2009, Prime Minister Netanyahu declared that he was willing to accept the establishment of a demilitarized Palestinian state, provided that it recognizes that Israel is the nation-state of the Jewish people – an indirect way of demanding the Palestinian renunciation of the so-called right of return. Abbas refused to even discuss the idea. The “two-state solution” and the “right of return” are incompatible.
According to the PLO, the actual and alleged descendants of the 600,000 Arabs who fled the British Mandate during the 1948 war are now five million, and they should be offered the option of becoming citizens and residents of the State of Israel if they so desire. This is the meaning of the so-called right of return – the implementation of which would make the Jews a minority in their own country. This is why the “two-state solution” and the “right of return” are a contradiction in terms. And it is because both Arafat and Abbas refused to forgo this fantasy that the 2000 and 2008 peace proposals fell flat.
If Sweden is serious about the “two-state solution,” it should set as a condition for the recognition of the “State of Palestine” its official renunciation of “right of return.”
Those three questions are simple. It is time for Sweden to answer them.