Sweden to recognise Palestinian state
GAZA CITY // Sweden will become the first major European country to recognise the state of Palestine, prime minister Stefan Lofven said on Friday.
The UN General Assembly approved the de facto recognition of the sovereign state of Palestine in 2012 but the European Union and most EU countries, have yet to give official recognition.
“The conflict between Israel can only be solved with a two-state solution, negotiated in accordance with international law,” Swedish PM Stefan Lofven said during his inaugural address in parliament.
“A two-state solution requires mutual recognition and a will to peaceful coexistence. Sweden will therefore recognise the state of Palestine.”
For the Palestinians, Sweden’s move will be a welcome boost for its ambitions.
With its reputation as an honest broker in international affairs and with an influential voice in EU foreign policy, the decision may well make other countries sit up and pay attention at a time when the Palestinians are threatening unilateral moves towards statehood.
However, there is likely to be strong criticism of Sweden from Israel, as well as from the United States and the EU, which maintain that an independent Palestinian state should only emerge through a negotiated process.
Meanwhile, it was announced that Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas will ask donor countries for $4 billion for Gaza reconstruction after a summer war between Israel and Hamas damaged or destroyed tens of thousands of homes and more than 5,000 businesses.
During the 50-day war, Israel launched several thousand air strikes and unleashed artillery barrages at what it said were Hamas-linked targets in Gaza, flattening entire neighbourhoods. Hamas fired thousands of rockets and mortar shells at Israeli communities during the fighting.
According to a 72-page reconstruction report, the Palestinian government will request $4 billion in emergency relief and reconstruction funds. It will also ask donors to pledge an additional $4.5 billion in support for the Palestinian government’s budget through 2017.
The Gaza pledging conference will be held in Cairo on October 12.
Meanwhile, Israel’s army chief said in comments published Friday that it would serve Israeli security interests to allow construction materials to enter blockaded Gaza.
Israel and Egypt have sharply restricted movement and trade in and out of Gaza since the Islamist militant Hamas seized the territory from Mr Abbas in 2007.
Lt Gen Benny Gantz said that Hamas suffered military setbacks during the war, but that Israel can only secure long-term quiet on its border with Gaza if “an economic anchor backs up what was achieved in the fighting.”
“We need to permit the opening of the strip to goods,” Gen Gantz was quoted as saying. “In the end, there are 1.8 million people there, with Israel and Egypt surrounding them. These people need to live.”
The Israel-Hamas war that ended in late August killed more than 2,100 Palestinians, three-fourth of them civilians, according to UN figures. Israel lost 66 soldiers and six civilians.
Hamas had ruled Gaza with an iron grip since it seized the coastal strip. However, earlier this year, the militant movement found itself in a severe financial crisis, largely because Egypt tightened its closure, shutting virtually all smuggling tunnels into Gaza and cutting off a key source of Hamas revenues.
The pressure eventually forced Hamas to hand over some powers to a temporary unity government of independent experts who report to Mr Abbas and who are to oversee the reconstruction effort.
The reconstruction would also require Israel to permit the import of large quantities of cement, steel and other construction materials. Under a recent deal between Israel, the Abbas government and the United Nations, Israel would allow such imports, provided Palestinian and UN inspectors make sure they are not diverted by Hamas for military use.
During the war, Israel had uncovered and partially destroyed a network of cement-lined Hamas military tunnels.
Palestinian government officials have said security forces loyal to Abbas would be deployed on the Gaza side of crossings with Israel after the Muslim holiday of Eid Al Adha, which starts Saturday, as a first step in the process.
However, no date was given for their deployment, seen as key by many in the international community for getting ambitious reconstruction projects off the ground.
The Palestinian report asked for more than $1.1 billion to rebuild 20,000 homes or apartments that were destroyed or severely damaged and to repair more than 40,000 housing units with lesser damage. Close to $600 million would be required for more than 5,000 damaged or destroyed businesses and factories, the report said.
* Reuters and Associated Press
Updated: October 3, 2014 04:00 AM