By recognizing “State of Palestine,” Sweden could harm Palestinians

The trappings of “statehood” and “state” recognition will not restore usurped Palestinian rights.

Shadi Hatem

Update, 14 October:

The House of Commons, the lower house of the UK parliament, voted by 274-12 on Monday to approve the non-binding motion:

That this House believes that the Government should recognise the state of Palestine alongside the state of Israel, as a contribution to securing a negotiated two state solution.

While the motion carried by an overwhelming majority, fewer than half of the members of the house took part in the vote.

Update, 12 October: UK vote

On Monday 13 October, members of the UK parliament are to vote on a symbolic motion that “the Government should recognize the state of Palestine alongside the state of Israel.”

The BBC reports that the motion is likely to be further amended to add the words that this recognition should be done as “a contribution to securing a negotiated two-state solution.”

This initiative may have good intentions in the minds of many, but for reasons I explain below, I believe that recognizing such a “state” is harmful to the rights of most Palestinians. So I respectfully but strongly disagree with friends who support it.

Originally published last week, I have slightly revised the post below to explain more clearly why this is the case. The logic that applies to Sweden applies precisely to the UK move as well.

Original post

The Palestinian Authority in Ramallah was ecstatic last weekend after Sweden’s new center-left Prime Minister Stefan Löfven announced in his inaugural address to parliament what appeared to be a break with Western orthodoxy: his country would recognize the “State of Palestine.”

“We salute the announcement by the Swedish prime minister,” crowed Saeb Erekat, the PA “chief negotiator.”

Although dozens of countries already recognize the “State of Palestine,” including several in Europe, Israel’s staunchest backers – the US, Canada, Australia and most of the European Union states – do not.

For the PA, with no achievements – and many losses – to show for more than two decades of a “peace process,” such diplomatic recognition is a coveted prize that gives the false impression of progress.

But American objections and Israeli fury quickly pushed the Swedes to try to cool expectations.

On Friday, US State Department spokesperson Jennifer Psaki criticized the Swedish move as “premature.”

The Swedish ambassador in Tel Aviv was summoned to the Israeli foreign ministry for a scolding on Monday – but Sweden’s government would not reveal the content of his discussion with Israeli officials.

And the Swedish prime minister was subjected to the usual insults by Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman who suggested that Löfven did not understand the region.

“If what concerns the prime minister of Sweden in his inaugural address is the situation in the Middle East, he would better focus on the more urgent problems in the region, such as the daily mass murder taking place in Syria, Iraq and elsewhere in the region,” Lieberman advised.

Publicly, the Swedes did their best to soothe Israel’s anger.

Prime Minister Löfven spoke with Israeli opposition leader Isaac Herzog, chair of Israel’s Labor Party, a “sister party” to Löfven’s Social Democrats.

Herzog told Haaretz that Löfven stressed that Sweden “wasn’t going to recognize a Palestinian state tomorrow morning” and “wants to speak first with all the relevant parties, including Israel, the Palestinians, the United States and other EU states.”

So much for a big, bold break.

Vague statement

Also on Sunday, Sweden’s foreign ministry tweeted out Löfven’s exact words apparently to underline Sweden’s support for the sterile “peace process” and the “two-state solution.”

And this statement was posted on the website of the Swedish embassy in Tel Aviv:

The following text is a quote from the Prime Minister Stefan Löfven’s declaration on the government policy in the parliament on 3 October.

“The conflict between Israel and Palestine can only be resolved through a two-state solution, negotiated in accordance with the principles of international law. It must guarantee the legitimate demands of both the Palestinians and the Israelis for national self-determination and security. A two-state solution requires mutual recognition and a will to coexist peacefully. Therefore, Sweden will recognize the State of Palestine.”

Löfven’s commitment has no specific date attached to it, leaving, at best, confusion over his government’s intentions.

Sweden’s new foreign minister Margot Wallström added to the confusion, tweeting cryptically: “Recognizing Palestine: Important step towards a two-state solution. Both sides must be respected.”

By “both sides,” she presumably means the occupier and colonizer on the one hand, and its victims, on the other.

Sweden’s misguided motives

Wallström elaborated on Sweden’s intentions in comments to the newspaper Dagens Nyheter on Sunday.

The minister said that the strong Israeli reaction was unsurprising: “This I can understand and respect even if I do not share it.”

She said she didn’t think the planned move would “have any serious impact on relations between Sweden and Israel,” stressing “We have good relations.”

She rejected criticism that the move was too early: “I would say that the risk is that it is too late.”

But why float this step at all? “It is important that we take an initiative that hopefully will inspire other countries,” Wallström said.

Wallström is right: it is too late. It is too late to revive the dead “peace process” and there is no point talking about a “two-state solution” anymore. She’s also right to suggest that things cannot go on as they are and something must be done.

But moving from quiet complicity with Israel to antagonizing it with symbolic recognition of a Palestinian state – while maintaining “good relations” – will do absolutely nothing to change the Palestinian reality, even if other states followed Sweden’s lead (if and when it comes).

“State” harms Palestinians

As I have explained in my book The Battle for Justice in Palestine and in an article for Al-Shabaka, recognition of a Palestinian “state” in a fraction of Palestine actually negates the rights of most Palestinians and conflicts with the Palestinian right of self-determination.

While recognizing the “State of Palestine” excites and pleases many who support the Palestinian cause, people should not to get carried away with the aesthetics of “statehood” in what would amount to a bantustan.

Instead, I have argued, they should focus on the negative consequences for the right of return and the rights of Palestinian citizens of Israel.

The main purpose of the so-called two-state solution is not to restore Palestinian rights, but rather to preserve and recognize Israel’s so-called “right to exist as a Jewish state.”

As I further explain in this excerpt from my book, Israel’s claimed “right to exist as a Jewish state” can only be exercised by violating in perpetuity the rights of millions of Palestinians – Palestinian citizens of Israel who will retain second-class status if not expelled outright, and Palestinian refugees who will never be allowed back home. And even the rights of Palestinians in the so-called “state” would barely be realized since Israel insists that this state have extremely curtailed sovereignty.

So from my perspective, I do not see recognition of a Palestinian “state” in the context of the so-called two-state solution as anything to celebrate. Indeed, it may well be harmful to Palestinians in the long run.

What Sweden could do

But I do applaud Sweden’s desire to show leadership, initiative and to break with a stifling consensus. So, here are some ideas for Sweden’s new government that might actually do that:

Sweden led the way among European countries in opposing apartheid in South Africa. That included rejecting the regime’s bantustans which were designed to preserve apartheid by disguising it as “independence” for Blacks.

It is also past time for Sweden and other countries to stop concealing their complicity with Israeli apartheid behind the so-called “two-state solution” and to openly support full rights and equality for all Palestinians throughout historic Palestine.




Absolutely! A state on 10%, not even of historic Palestine, but the WB/Gaza insults the aspirations and blood of Palestinian martyrs. And talk of 1967 borders, would have to mean pre June 196, because land taken by force is illegal which brings Israel back to an even more objectionable 2 state solution. The ideas for what Sweden could practically do are important, and people pressure on all their respective governments for economic and arms sanctions needs be ramped up.


Exactly right. Not only is the Swedish initiative no reason for celebration, but it also confirms the EU's stubborn connivance with a rabid, borderless race colony called "Israel" that the Western powers themselves created on the ruins of another people. They will not escape the consequences of their historic mistake--no one will. This has become very clear ever since the West decided to create a devil's playpen in Syria...and now the whole Middle East. The rights of the Palestinians, Lebanese and everyone else who was made to pay all this time for Western hegemony with land and blood.


I understand his position but I must disagree in that to the vast, uninformed public Sweden's move to recognize Palestine as a state shows them that a fair-minded nation like Sweden is, in essence, not only stepping away from Israel's occupation of Palestine but criticizing it. In that sense, it is a plus for all Palestinians.


Löfven and Wallström are victimizing the palestinians by these statements, it's typical swedish behaviour to tell the abused to make friends with their abuser- it's just so much better if we can all get along, so forget the abuse and shake hands... Sweden has no clue about what is going on in the rest of the world because the newpaper and newsprogrammes are filled with propaganda and misleading information. Our own political leader Löfven's out of touch comment proves this. It's embarrassing.


Sweden deosnt know because they read everything through press and biased media?!!
What a funny statement! Then how do you know about the truth anyways?! Are you an insider?!


The author writes "the negative consequences for the right of return".
What is negative about the return of Palestinians to Palestine?


The author is not talking about right of return to only the current Palestine which is 10% of its original size, but the right of return to pre 1948 lands which are now part of Israel through conquest, slow theft and expulsion of 750,000 Palestinians in the Naqba.

By recognizing Palestine as a state without defining its borders, you leave Israel to its own devices to expel existing Israeli Arabs and not allow the 1948 refugees that are in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria and rest of the world. Israel will deny them this right to return and they will remain refugees or be forced to live in overcrowded west bank and Gaza. Israel may expel Israeli Arabs to this smaller Palestine or keep the Apartheid system in place for Israeli Arabs in Israel.

That is what the author means by negative consequences to "right of return" and "rights of Arab citizens of Israel.


The author mentioned that Sweden should aware of "the negative consequences for the right of return and the rights of Palestinian citizens of Israel", but didn't explain it in details. What might be the negative consequences?


The author is not talking about right of return to only the current Palestine which is 10% of its original size, but the right of return to pre 1948 lands which are now part of Israel through conquest, slow theft and expulsion of 750,000 Palestinians in the Naqba.

By recognizing Palestine as a state without defining its borders, you leave Israel to its own devices to expel existing Israeli Arabs and not allow the 1948 refugees that are in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria and rest of the world. Israel will deny them this right to return and they will remain refugees or be forced to live in overcrowded west bank and Gaza. Israel may expel Israeli Arabs to this smaller Palestine or keep the Apartheid system in place for Israeli Arabs in Israel.

That is what the author means by negative consequences to "right of return" and "rights of Arab citizens of Israel.


This is an important and historic moment. We should seize the time and move forward where we can. It is unrealistic at this time to demand a return to 1948 borders. There are many international agreements and protocols that validate a return to the 1967 borders. We should accept that. Of course, eventually, ideally, there should be one secular state--but that ain't gonna happen right now. Please, let us move forward where we can and not let the ideal become the enemy of real. Pressure should be put on other Scandinavian countries, on socialist governments in Latin America and on other Arab countries to recognize Palestine. We do not surrender the right of return by doing this, we strengthen the right of return. If Palestine can get recognition--by other countries, by the U N, by the ICC, then individual plaintiffs and the State of Palestine can bring suit in courts in those countries to recover damages. This would be such a disruption of trade for Israel, they would move quickly to allow the right of return. It would be too costly for them not to. This is a non-violent strategy that will not cost the lives of innocent women and children in Palestine. It is worth attempting.


Dear Ed, I don't understand your comment. On one reading I think you might have a good idea, but it is simply not clear.
Do you mean return to Israel, or just to the West Bank? Do you mean that ONLY IF Palestine (Bantustine) becomes a state can individuals, and that state, bring lawsuits (for compensation, not for return) against Israel? But what about RETURN? I don't get it. Thank you.


By the Right of Return I mean all those people who have been illegally and forcibly displaced by the IDF must have the right to return to their homes and must have adequate compensation for the losses they have suffered. It is too difficult for individuals to sue the Israeli government for damages, so a government of Palestine must bring suit: first, establishing that a wrong was committed, and, second, assessing damages.


Agreed. I didn't mean Palestinian state in 1948 borders but the right of return for refugees to their native pre 1948 lands within Israel (if they so choose). Of course they will then have to become Israeli citizens and be given equal rights which worries Israel as they want a Jewish majority. I think most displaced Palestinians that originate from lands that are now part of Israel wouldn't want to live in an apartheid state anyway and will choose to live on new Palestine. But the right to return is a matter of principle. It has to be offered along with equal rights.


Of course, those who have been displaced must have the right to return to their homes and villages if they choose and to be adequately compensated for the losses they have suffered. I can understand how many Palestinians would not want to return to an apartheid state, but I think many will. And that would go far in ameliorating the viciousness of Israeli politics. Currently there are only about six members of the Knesset from Arab parties. Their population in Israel (roughly 2 out of 8 million) should entitle them to one-fourth representation, but many refuse to participate on principle. I can sympathize, but I think that strategy is shortsighted. Bobby Seale once said, "By any means necessary." I believe, by any means available. I think we need more people like Hanin Zoabi to speak up for justice for Palestine.


I agree with AA. It is counterproductive from the view of the Palestinian
people to recognize the Israeli/US/West puppet (the PA) and in addition
to accept the continued rule of Palestine by Israel & its supporters.

The ongoing battle, the building (and annexation) of settlements
continue daily. The financing of Israel for so-called "security" reasons
cannot be tolerated.

A TWO-STATE solution is not viable and probably never was.

First we must know precisely how much the colonial "State of Israel" is
willing to CONCEDE. How much land is it willing to give up? When will
it disarm? When will Israel abide by international law? When will the
"security wall" be dismantled? When will ALL residents of "settlements"
end all "Jewish only" activities and either 1) evacuate and/or 2) submit
to rules, regulations of the Government of Palestine? When will Israel
and its supporters (especially the US) contribute an equal number of
dollars to the State of Palestine including weapons, training etc. for Palestine's
security against all intrusion of Palestine's political processes? There is
more...The resistance is in a battle. We await the delivery of many
Caterpillar D-9's to destroy the wall and any resistant settlements. The time
for Israel to become a neighbor is not at hand. Palestine must refuse to
negotiate such "neighborliness" from the mat having been knocked
out by Israel & others (as in a boxing match).

Palestinians want their state, their OWN state, not a puppet of its
friendly conqueror(s).

---Peter Loeb, Boston, MA, USA



Regarding my comments on Swedish recognition above, I wish to add that
I lived, worked and taught in Sweden for 7 years, was a member of the
"Svenska Arbetare Partiet" (Socialist Workers Party or "SAP") of which I became
a volumteer "ombud". According to my understanding, the CENTER LEFT
party is more CENTER than "left". Since the non-socialist parties could never
cobble together a coalition to beat the socialists (with l-2 exceptions), they
finally got together to make a "new" party whose name in Swedish can easily
be confused with the social democrats. They thus get younger voters and middle-
class professional voters....

The socialist party is more like liberal democrats in the US. They remain
committed to the "social program" such as "universal health care" and various
benefits from progressive taxation, which they put in place over the decades.

Sweden has proportional representation.

The social democrats over the decades did succeed by combining with the
infintessimal Communist Party which traditionally gained the smallest number
to permit them to participate. They provided the tiny margin social democrats
often needed in parliament.

Peter Loeb, Boston, MA, USA


Recognition by Sweden is the first step toward international legitimacy for a Palestinian state. The next step is to bring criminal charges against Israel and then seek damages in those states where Palestine is recognized. This was a very important and positive first step. Just because the PA thinks it was good doesn't make it bad.


I agree with this position entirely, but I'd like to repeat the question I asked in my Comment of yesterday, which did not get published. Ali, why does your list of things Sweden could do include this: "Ban the import to Sweden of all Israeli settlement goods, and encourage EU countries to do the same." By limiting the demand only to the West Bank, isn't this reinforcing the position that a general boycott might go too far? If Israel is basically 'settler-colonialist', we should not refer to only the WB settlements as 'settlements'. Israel is occupying all of historic Palestine, isn't it? Self-determination was always denied Palestinians, in the whole territory.
Thank you.


This is what marks Mr.Abunimah out as an extremist, this insistence on a 'total victory over the Israelis' for the Palestinians . Face it, Israel is here to stay, it is a legitimate state, it is a state worth supporting.


maintaining peace on the expense of ignoring Palestinian refugees who used to live in nowadays Israel is a greater injustice that not recognizing the WB/Gaza as a Palestinian state(s).


I have couple of issues with Abunimah's views on this article, one is that recognition by Sweden and the impending debate on the same topic by UK is the first step toward international legitimacy for a Palestinian state.

This step in my opinion is not mutually exclusive from bringing criminal charges against Israel nor would it have negative consequence on issue of Right of Return of Palestinians. In fact this is a very important positive step.

Furthermore I find it rather interesting Abunimah that you give helpful advise/ideas to Swedes in achieving aspiration of Palestinians if they "Lead a campaign for the immediate, unconditional end to Israel’s illegal siege of Gaza, which amounts to “collective punishment.”

I don't recall that even Mr. Mahmoud Abbas asked for the 'unconditional end to Israel’s illegal siege of Gaza', in fact as we found out later the 'unconditional end to siege of Gaza' was not even part of the dialogue of that absurd "TRUCE" which were agreed upon by all parties as conclusion of 50 days massacre of innocent Gazans by the Israelis !

To that end about a couple of weeks ago, after Mahmoud Abbas was taunted like a little naughty school boy after his speech at the UN, he introduced a resolution giving Israel two more years - till November of 2016 - on top of the past 66 years to end its occupation.

I find all the double talks fascinating and quite disturbing at the same time. This power play by Palestinian leadership has brought death, destruction, displacement and misery for Palestinians for over 6 decades and I hazard to say it will continue to bring more of the same.


For those who "have issues" and feel that Sweden's recognition is a first step
of some kind, remember historian Gabriel Kolko's admonition about "A system
that rules by consent of the oppressed, who strive only to be counted in at the

Is this the tangled web in are the Palestinians being entrapped?

All Palestinians do not and will not ever agree on every point. In the so-called
"peace accords" and subsequent "agreements", Palestine consented to
rule as oppressed by the suppressor(s). Let us not BEGIN by acknowledging
the present situation as a given, a starting point as it were. The current
situation must be drastically altered.

Peter Loeb, Boston, MA USA


two state ?one state ? recognizing Palestine ? why will Palestine need to be recognized ,Palestine is not a colonial power its has not occupied a land , it s a name of country existing there from thousands of years , putting a two state one state solution will mean that colonization should be legalized? can any other country in the world be allowed to do that? outsiders invade a country make illegal settlements , kill natives , n then be recognized as a state?? the truth is one colonial power UK granted illegally this land to European jews to make their own state here and supported them every step.


Of course it's unfair. Of course Palestine or Phillistina has existed for thousands of years. But, realistically, they must be recognized by the other countries. They must join the U N. They must present their claims to the International Criminal Court. Of course it was very wrong for the Western powers to give Israel 56% of the land of Palestine. But now is the time for Palestine to present its case for justice and reparations for the Nakba to the world
. Legitimacy in the eyes of the world means de-legitimizing Israel.


The only categorically moral and sustainable action regarding any recognition of the state of Palestine is to so with the stipulation that Palestine means all of historic Palestine - YES - the Palestine of the ancient world in terms of the territory that is now under almost total and totalitarian Zionist occupation. Moreover, the now fictional state of Palestine should also be understood to apply to all human beings in all of Palestine. Once Zionist Jews and Palestinians agree to negotiate as equal human beings, then there is a possibility of laying the foundations for a lasting peace. Anything short of that is mere complicity in the Zionist persecution of the native people of Palestine and de facto approval of ethnic-cleansing imperialism.


Yes, I confess, I want to recognize the state of Palestine, the state of Israel and the state of reality. I would agree that your position is more absolutely moral, but I am not that interested in absolutist solutions that end up getting a lot of people killed. I would propose we do everything we can to facilitate immediate recognition of Palestine as a state, bring criminal charges against Israel in the ICC, and then sue them for damages done to Palestinians since the Nakba. I grant you that is not pure and ideal, but it holds more promise of success in my opinion than absolutist preconditions.

Ali Abunimah

Ali Abunimah's picture

Co-founder of The Electronic Intifada and author of The Battle for Justice in Palestine, now out from Haymarket Books.

Also wrote One Country: A Bold-Proposal to End the Israeli-Palestinian Impasse. Opinions are mine alone.