Sweden will become the first major European nation to recognize Palestinian statehood, newly sworn-in Prime Minister Stefan Lofven announced Friday.
In unveiling his Cabinet appointments and governing priorities to Parliament, Lofven said recognizing the state of Palestine would bolster the objective of defining two separate but peacefully coexisting states and ending decades of hostility between Israelis and Palestinians.
"The conflict between Israel and Palestine can only be solved with a two-state solution, negotiated in accordance with international law," Lofven said in his inaugural address. "A two-state solution requires mutual recognition and a will to peaceful coexistence. Sweden will therefore recognize the state of Palestine."
Lofven, whose Social Democrats have united with Greens to form a left-leaning government after elections last month, did not specify when Sweden would join more than 130 other countries that recognize Palestine as a state.
Sweden's allies within the 28-nation European Union have mostly followed the U.S. lead in refraining from recognizing Palestine before its borders are defined through negotiations with Israel. Some newer members of the EU, including Poland, Hungary and Slovakia, recognized Palestine during the Cold War when they were aligned with the Soviet Union, but Sweden is the first longstanding EU state to break ranks with the Western bloc heeding Israel's resistance to conferring statehood on the Palestinians.
Talks have been proceeding off and on for more than 20 years since the 1993 Oslo peace accords signed by Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization. Negotiations have been suspended since April.
Nael Touqan, head of the Palestinian Assn. of Stockholm, told The Local news website that he hoped Sweden's decision inspires other Western leaders to recognize Palestine.
"Sweden has great respect in Europe so we hope this means that other nations will follow its lead," Touqan said. "This is the only way to pressure Israel."
There was no immediate Israeli reaction to the announcement from Stockholm, as the government and media were observing the Jewish sabbath and Yom Kippur. But Israeli officials were expected to be critical of Sweden's move as they argue that Palestine can't be recognized as a state when its borders have yet to be agreed upon through negotiation.
The Gaza Strip territory is clearly defined, but bitter disputes persist over areas of the West Bank and East Jerusalem wanted by the Palestinians for a future state that have been occupied by Jewish settlers or cut off by construction.
Phil Carmel of the European Jewish Congress that represents Jews in 40 countries, including Sweden, told The Local that Stockholm's pledge to recognize Palestine is "a token."
Carmel said he found it "ironic that Sweden recognizes a Palestinian state at a time when even Palestinians can't agree on what its borders will be."
The United Nations General Assembly voted two years ago to recognize Palestine as a "nonmember observer state," a compromise following the Palestinian leadership's failure a year earlier to secure full membership in the world body.