Last updated: 31 October, 2014

Sweden, after rare IKEA episode with Lieberman, hopes Israel ties will recover

Sweden's foreign minister said Friday she hoped ties with Israel would recover after Stockholm's decision to recognise the state of Palestine led to an unusual exchange involving IKEA furniture.

Margot Wallstroem was speaking exclusively to AFP one day after Sweden became the first EU member in western Europe to grant official recognition to the Palestinian state, prompting Israel to recall its ambassador to Stockholm.

“The contacts between Sweden and Israel haven’t been cut off. We hope the ambassador will return,” she said.

Sweden’s decision triggered a sharp rebuke on Thursday from Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, who said “relations in the Middle East are a lot more complex than the self-assembly furniture of IKEA”.

In response, Wallstroem in an interview with CNN stayed with the metaphor involving Sweden’s iconic furniture giant as she urged dialogue between Israelis and Palestinians.

“I will be happy to send him a flat pack of IKEA furniture and he will also see that what you need to put that together is, first of all, a partner,” she told CNN.

In Friday’s interview with AFP, Wallstroem described her exchange with her Israeli counterpart as first and foremost a sign of humour.

“You know, intelligent people have humour and I believe he showed that he had it, and I replied in a humorous way. We’ll leave it at that,” she said.

Sweden’s announcement this week brings to 135 the number of countries that recognise the state of Palestine, including seven EU members in eastern Europe and the Mediterranean — Bulgaria, Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Malta, Poland and Romania. Non-EU member Iceland is the only other western European nation to have done so.

Palestinians are seeking to achieve statehood in Gaza and the Israeli-occupied West Bank with east Jerusalem as the capital. With little progress on reaching a settlement, they have been lobbying foreign powers for international recognition.

Sweden’s move comes as Israeli-Palestinian tensions soar in Jerusalem following months of almost daily clashes in the city’s occupied eastern sector.