The apples of discord between Sweden and Israel have been falling thick and fast this autumn. It started when [Swedish journalist/writer] Donald Boström dropped a bombshell in Aftonbladet, claiming Israel was peddling Palestinian organs. It was clearly a botched and deeply dishonest allegation, but the fact that Israel tried to reap foreign policy capital out of the accusation also showed a flagrant want of moderation and good sense on the part of the Jewish state. Carl Bildt [Swedish foreign minister] then fanned the flames by openly endorsing the Goldstone report on the war crimes committed during last winter’s confrontation in Gaza. Whereupon Israel’s deputy foreign minister Danny Ayalon got on his high horse and threatened to recall Israel’s ambassador to Sweden.
And Swedish-Israeli relations have been hard hit by a third crisis in recent weeks: the Jewish state accuses Carl Bildt of trying to impose a new approach to the Jerusalem question on the European Union. The charge is in fact well-founded. During Sweden’s stint at the helm of the EU, Europe has for the first time publicly plumped for Jerusalem to serve as the capital of both countries. And seeing as Israel’s hard-sell lobbying drive failed to sway a single European country, this proposal is back on the agenda for the foreign ministers’ meeting in Brussels [on 8 December].
Breaking the silence
Of all the sticking points between Carl Bildt and his Israeli antagonists, this is by far the most important. The two-state solution hinges on Jerusalem. But the situation in East Jerusalem is increasingly critical. Israel believes the EU’s new policy is preparing the ground for talks to come. Actually, it is Israel that has been preparing the ground: since the occupation of East Jerusalem in 1967 and the annexation that followed in 1980, it has done everything within its power to consolidate the image of Jerusalem as the “eternal and indivisible capital of Israel”. A growing number of Israelis, inside and outside the establishment, realise that this stance will not hold water and they will inevitably have to share the city. But with no peace agreement in the offing, Israel continues to hem in the city.
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This is why the rest of the world should speak out in protest. We don’t need another round of negotiations that will never be anything but window-dressing as long as the conservatives are running the country and Palestinians remain divided. What is needed is for the rest of the world to weigh in on the Jerusalem question. The fact that Israel has put a freeze on the building of new settlements means nothing as long as the freeze excludes the most important area of all. The European Union ought to declassify its annual reports [drawn up by European consulates in Israel] on the alarming situation in East Jerusalem and break the silence. If Carl Bildt succeeds in convincing European countries to speak out loud and clear for the sharing of Jerusalem, that will be his signal achievement as minister of foreign affairs.
Against an ethnic vision of Israel
“The perverse insistence upon identifying a universal Jewishness with one small piece of territory is dysfunctional in many ways.” So argues Tony Judt, director of the Remarque Institute, New York, in the pages of the Financial Times. Citing Israeli academic Schlomo Sand’s controversial work, The Invention of the Jewish People, which deconstructs Zionist myths of an ethnically and religiously homogeneous people, Judt argues for a new concept of Israel, one that does not make an “exclusive claim on Jewish identity”, and, in doing so, “reduces all non-Jewish Israeli citizens and residents to second-class status.”
In rejecting a two state solution to the Palestinian question, which would only “leave Israel intact with its ethno delusions”, Judt urges the Jewish diaspora in North America and Europe to take its distance from Israel, which would be obliged to “acknowledge its limits” and “make other friends, preferably amongst its neighbours.” Such action, akin to the Irish American community freezing of donations to the IRA in the 1990’s, would act as a brake on “ethnic exclusivism and nationalist prejudice” - a step on the way to solving the ethnically fraught “Israel-Palestine imbroglio”.