By Kourosh Ziabari
On January 12, the Swedish Foreign Minister Margot Wallstrom called for an investigation into the “extrajudicial killing” of Palestinians by the Israeli forces.
It’s said that at least 141 Palestinians have been assassinated by Israel since mid-September 2015. Israel maintains that these Palestinians were engaged in a campaign of incitement against its citizens and soldiers, stabbing or throwing stones at them. 24 Israelis were killed during this wave of “incitement.” However, the figures demonstrate a stark disproportion, which the Swedish FM had deplored: “The response cannot be … so that there are extrajudicial executions, or that it becomes disproportionate so the numbers of dead on the other side is greater than the original death toll by several factors.”
The Israeli authorities were infuriated at the remarks by the Swedish top diplomat, a rare posture by a high-ranking EU official. The Hebrew media referred to Ms. Wallstrom as an “Israel-bashing” politician, and Israel’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement that her comments were “irresponsible and delusional.”
Margot Wallstrom has a track record of criticizing Israel and is seen to be one of the few EU officials who openly call Tel Aviv’s policies into question.
An Indian historian and author says Margot Wallstrom “has a long history of being plainspoken on matters of imperialism.”
“She has held fast to the value of anti-imperialism through her career. In recent years, she has been unsparing in her criticism of Saudi Arabia, Israel, ISIS and others. She is a bold politician,” said Prof. Vijay Prashad in an interview with Truth NGO.
Commenting on the complexities of Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the Trinity College professor said he believes the future is bleak for the people of Palestine.
“There are no easy solutions for Palestine. No exit from the Israeli occupation suggests perilous times ahead. The two-state solution has been largely invalidated by the Israeli settlement policy,” he asserted.
“Israeli settlers have seized most of the best land in the Jordan Valley – given to Palestine under the Oslo agreement. U.S. charitable money, namely tax free, goes to underwrite these illegal settlements,” he added.
Vijay Prashad is the George and Martha Kellner Chair in South Asian History and Professor of International Studies at Trinity College. He is the author of several books, including the recently published “No Free Left: The Futures of Indian Communism.” His writings have appeared on The Guardian, Open Democracy, The Hindu, Monthly Review, The Independent and many other major publications.
Prof. Prashad responded to Truth NGO’s questions about the emerging trend in Europe to criticize Israel over its policies and actions, especially as highlighted in the recent Sweden-Israel standoff, the BDS movement gaining momentum internationally and the fate of Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The following is the text of the interview.
Q: Swedish Foreign Minister Margot Wallstrom has alleged that Israel has been recently engaged in the “extrajudicial killing” of Palestinian citizens. Her statements sparked outrage in Israel and the Tel Aviv officials barred her from visiting the Jewish state. What do you think about the whole diplomatic flurry? Do Wallstrom’s remarks reflect the reality of what’s happening between the Israelis and Palestinians and has the Israeli response been a proportionate one? What do you generally think about the Swedish FM’s attitude towards Israel and the Middle East, which has been sternly censured by the right-wingers and the Jewish advocacy organizations in Europe?
A: Margot Wallstrom is on the left of the Social Democrats in Sweden. She has a long history of being plainspoken on matters of imperialism – she began her political career as a youth activist against the U.S. war on Vietnam and against the coup in Chile. She has held fast to the value of anti-imperialism through her career. In recent years, she has been unsparing in her criticism of Saudi Arabia, Israel, ISIS and others. She is a bold politician.
There is little indication that other social democrats will follow Wallstrom’s lead. Even Die Linke in Germany is not always as plainspoken as Wallstrom, although it should be said people such as Sahra Wagenknecht and Ulla Jelpke of the Anti-Capitalist current in Die Linke are as strong as Wallstrom.
Is Wallstrom right about the situation in Palestine? Certainly. Even the UN Secretary General has been scathing about the nature of the occupation, and how it, and only it, is responsible for the situation today in Palestine. There would be little disagreement between Ban Ki-moon and Wallstrom, as far as I can see.
The Israelis deny that there is an occupation. They see things quite differently from those who understand interntional law. The Israelis also attack anyone who criticisms them of anti-Semitism. It is their formula. Jelpke of Die Linke said recently, “I consider it legitimate to be against Zionism. After all it has apartheid-like characteristic.” For this Jelpke and her colleagues were accused of anti-Semitism. This is the habit of Israel. It is tiresome. It considers any criticism of Israel as anti-Semitism. That is ridiculous. It is essential that we distinguish between anti-Semitism [as] hatred of Jews with anti-Zionism, a political position against a political ideology. If we do not make such a distinction, then politics ends. How is one supposed to respond to policies that Israel has that violate international law, settlements, for instance? If any criticism is ridiculed as anti-Semitism, what room is there for dialogue and debate?
Q: Sweden is one of only 9 European Union member states that recognize the State of Palestine. It voted in favor of the United Nations General Assembly resolution 67/19 in November 2012 to upgrade Palestine’s status to non-member observer state at the UN. Is it realistic to expect that other EU countries will follow the suit and establish diplomatic ties with Palestine in the future? Is Israel finding Sweden’s political and economic ties with Palestine intolerable?
A: Sweden’s position is essential. It broke the wall that stopped European politicians from being true to international law. On the settlement policy, for instance, it is merely international law that says that all products made on settlements must be boycotted. The boycott is not beyond international law. It is a requirement of international law. Because of fear of appearing anti-Semitic, few in Europe tried to follow international law when it came to Israel. Sweden broke the taboo. This is what enabled the EU to move toward labeling of settlement products from Israel. It is a beginning. Sweden’s role is essential here.
Q: You talked about the boycotts. What’s your viewpoint about the action taken by some private and public firms and retailers in Sweden and a number of other European countries, who have joined the Boycott/Divestment/Sanctions (BDS) Movement and are imposing a ban on trade with Israel, p1rohibiting the sale of products manufactured by the settlers? The BDS movement is obviously gaining momentum internationally. What are its root causes? Could it trigger a change in the Israeli policies?
A: The BDS movement is merely the reflection of international law. By international law, an occupying power cannot change the facts on the ground. The settlement activity and land seizures are attempts to change the facts on the ground. They are therefore illegal. Collaboration with illegal settlements would mean that even the collaborators are liable before international courts. This is a serious matter. As the politics moves in the direction against settlements, businesses now see themselves as liable. Even the U.S. ambassador to Israel recently gave a searing speech against the settlements. The BDS movement has had successes because it targets the settlements. This has certainly put pressure on Israel. There are no indications that Israel would change its tune vis-á-vis the Palestinians.
Q: The prolongation of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has plagued peace and stability in the Middle East and continues to consume so much time, political capital and fruitless efforts to broker peace between the two sides. There are many issues which remain unsolved, including the destiny of around 6.6 million Palestinian refugees wandering across the region, the continued blockade of the densely-populated Gaza Strip, Israel’s refusal to recognize East Jerusalem (Al-Quds) as a multi-ethnic, multi-religious region belonging to both the Arabs and non-Arabs and the intransigence of the leaders who are not willing to make compromises. What do you think is going to happen in the future? Is it conceivable that some major changes can emerge in the course of developments?
A: There are no easy solutions for Palestine. No exit from the Israeli occupation suggests perilous times ahead. The two-state solution has been largely invalidated by the Israeli settlement policy. Israeli settlers have seized most of the best land in the Jordan Valley – given to Palestine under the Oslo agreement. U.S. charitable money, namely tax free, goes to underwrite these illegal settlements. The one-state solution is anathema to the Israeli political consensus, which would like to move towards the open declaration of the country as a Jewish State. A sizable Palestinian population would dilute this ethno-nationalist claim. What remains is endless occupation and frustration.
Q: The former Chief-of-Staff of the Israel Defense Forces Moshe Yaalon once said in May 2005 that the establishment of a Palestinian state “will lead at some stage to war.” He had asserted that the idea of the foundation of an independent Palestinian state was “disconnected from reality and dangerous.” Will the Israeli leaders eventually accede to the idea of an independent Palestinian state and give the people of Palestine a chance to determine their own future?
A: No. Not this political elite. Israel will need to go through a serious political upsurge before there emerges a new political leadership willing to have a conversation. Right now, this seems utopian. We are in a difficult place. Pressure is essential, if only to push for new conditions.