“Two-state solution only path to sustainable peace”

Published

Opinion piece of 5 December 2023 by Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson, Minister for Energy, Business and Industry Ebba Busch, Minister for Employment and Integration Johan Pehrson and Minister for Foreign Affairs Tobias Billström.

The temporary ceasefire in Gaza is now over. Following a week where humanitarian assistance was able to reach affected Palestinians and more than 100 kidnapped Israelis were released, fighting has now resumed.

The human suffering is immense on both sides. Israel has suffered the worst mass murder of Jews since the Holocaust. Meanwhile, thousands of Palestinians have lost their lives, an appalling number of which are children.

Since the terrorist attack on 7 October, the Swedish Government has stood up for several key and joint EU positions. We unreservedly condemn Hamas’s barbaric terrorist attack and support Israel’s clear right to defend its country and its people. No state can exist with a terrorist movement on the other side of the border pursuing its goal of destroying its neighbour and carrying out terrorist attacks and indiscriminate rocket fire.

Israel’s goal to disable Hamas’s military capability is therefore both understandable and legitimate. If it succeeds, it will also give new hope to the Palestinians who for many years have suffered under Hamas’s authoritarian Islamist rule.

The EU and Sweden therefore support Israel’s right to defend itself, but this right must be exercised in accordance with international law and international humanitarian law. Civilians must always be protected, and this task is both more difficult and more important given how densely populated Gaza is. Every innocent life that is lost in this war is a tragedy. As the fighting is currently moving south to where many Gaza residents have fled, Israel must now do its utmost to protect civilians.

Both the EU and Sweden have highlighted the serious humanitarian situation in Gaza, and therefore demanded humanitarian access at an early stage. Sweden has long been one of the world’s leading donors to several of the humanitarian actors on the ground and the Government has increased its humanitarian assistance by an additional SEK 210 million (EUR 19 million)since the war began. The Government has also emphasised that even more humanitarian assistance must be allowed through humanitarian corridors and humanitarian pauses. This is why Sweden welcomed the temporary ceasefire.

The conflict in the Middle East gives rise to very strong feelings across the world and here in Sweden. The debate has become polarised and irreconcilable.

However, it is entirely possible to see the suffering on both sides and recognise the rights of both Israelis and Palestinians. Swedes and Europeans believe that Israel clearly has a right to a democratic Jewish state within secure borders. Israel was founded on the idea that, following the Holocaust, there had to be at least one place in the world where Jews could always feel safe – a place without persecution and antisemitism. We believe that this right is uncompromisable.

The terror attack on 7 October was therefore more than the mass murder of 1 200 innocent Israelis. It was an attack on the very concept of a safe haven for Jews everywhere. That is why this is an existential war for Israel.

However, under international law Palestinians have equally clear rights that must also be safeguarded. Unlike in Gaza – where Israel phased out all settlements long ago – expansion continues in the West Bank. These settlements threaten to make a future two-state solution impossible.

Moreover, violence has increased immensely since 7 October. Extreme settlers physically assault and harass Palestinians and vandalise their properties, olive plantations and agricultural land. There is no proper accountability for these acts.

Israel must now seriously deal with the unacceptable violence by settlers and cease the expansion of settlements. At the same time, Palestine must reject violence and terrorism once and for all, as the Palestine Liberation Organization did in the Oslo Accords of 1993. Only then can the foundations for future peace be laid.

When the war in Gaza is over, the concept of a two-state solution must be revived. It may seem utopian right now, but most people have realised that it is the only path to sustainable peace. A two-state solution also has strong political support in our part of the world. It is the clear position of Sweden and the EU as well as the United States and the UK. Under the Swedish Presidency of the Council of the EU in 2009, a joint European position was adopted. The current war has made the two-state solution even more important, and a Gaza not ruled by Hamas is a prerequisite for it to happen.

Sweden will therefore be a strong voice for a two-state solution, with Israel and Palestine co-existing in peace and security. We have historically enjoyed very close ties with Israel, which this Government has worked hard to rebuild, just as former Prime Minister Göran Persson did in his time. In addition, thanks to long-term engagement, Sweden has well-developed ties with Palestine. If Sweden and other EU Member States were to contribute to reviving the two-state solution, it would be a historic contribution to peace in the Middle East. Our first message is therefore that Sweden is ready to contribute to a broader European initiative.

Our second message is that we must also be realistic: Sweden’s influence over the conflict in the Middle East is limited. However, we in Sweden bear full responsibility for what happens in our own country.

Sweden is a democracy, and people are of course allowed to have differences of opinion on long-standing difficult conflicts in the Middle East. However, we will not allow conflict there to lead to threats, hate, antisemitism and disinformation here.

It is now urgently necessary here in Sweden to safeguard our climate of dialogue and our rational approach to handling differences of opinion. Sweden must not be a hostile arena for every conflict in the world, with street mobs replacing serious discussion and democratic decisions. Antisemitism must never be relativised, and romanticised terrorism must never be accepted. In this regard, the Government will stand up for what is right.

Ulf Kristersson
Prime Minister
Ebba Busch
Minister for Energy, Business and Industry
Johan Pehrson
Minister for Employment and Integration
Tobias Billström
Minister for Foreign Affairs