Why Carl Bildt is driving the Israelis up the wall

September 19, 2010, that’s the target. Send the best political campaign professionals in the world into Sweden’s national elections. Make Reinfeldt and Bildt pay a price.”

That’s the suggestion of political consultant Michael Fenenbock in an op-ed in Israel’s largest daily, Yedioth Ahronoth. The reason is that the EU has once again proclaimed that Jerusalem should be the capital city of a future Palestinian state, something for which rotating EU president “Reinfeldt and his Rasputin-like partner Carl Bildt” ought to be punished.

We have the means, the experience and skill to cause these guys political pain in Sweden,” writes Fenenbock, who has previously run campaigns for Ted Kennedy and others in the US.

That’s somewhat ironic. For decades now an anti-Semitic-tainted extreme Left has been mouthing off about a “pro-Israel Lobby” that is alleged to control the world’s political destiny. When finally someone turns up who claims to represent just such a lobby, it also turns out that he intends to bring down the non-socialist government. That’s going to lead to some really hard-to-reconcile internal conflicts in many quarters.

The fact, however, is that there is a tense relationship between Sweden and Israel right now. That’s on the political plane. As regards trade and cultural exchanges, on the other hand, the atmosphere has never been better.

Carl Bildt’s rather arrogant style (he recently claimed that Israel is trying to influence the EU through a policy of “divide and rule”) underscores some Israelis’ impression that Bildt did not merely convey the demands expected during his country’s EU presidency, but rather that he has taken on the task with a dedication bordering on fervour. As though he truly burns with enthusiasm to put Israel in its place.

This past autumn’s headline-making story in which this country’s biggest daily paper spread stories about Israeli organ harvesting, stories deeply rooted in anti-Jewish mythology, without being admonished by the Swedish government, has scarcely done anything to mend bridges.

In Israel, the EU’s and Sweden’s incessant demands are perceived as highly one-sided. And not without some justification.

Last week the Israeli media presented leaked details about what was probably the previous Israeli government’s proposal to the Palestinians: then-Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is reported to have made an offer for a future Palestinian state on 99.3% of the pre-1967 territory. As well as the partitioning of Jerusalem. The Palestinians declined. Yet again. So who exactly is being unreasonable?

The current Israeli government emerged as a response to the previous centre coalition, which received nothing in reply to its far-reaching concessions. If today we are hearing a sharp tone of voice from Prime Minister Netanyahu and others, it is not solely a cause of the situation we see today – it is in equal measure a response to Palestinian intransigence.

That a Swedish non-socialist government would be hostile to Israel is unthinkable. So how exactly are we to interpret Carl Bildt?

It’s that same old problem: trying to extract responsibility from the only party that has ever been shown to be capable of behaving responsibly, while never demanding responsibility from the one party that really should be shouldering it. Instead of perhaps using our immense financial aid to the Palestinians to persuade them in the appropriate direction.

The question is whether it would work. From the Israeli viewpoint, it is more convenient to bicker with Sweden, and to joke about rigging our election process, than it is to pursue an uncertain centrist policy that would require some extremely hazardous concessions. That makes Carl Bildt the Likud government’s excuse to shift its focus. And that may not have been the intention.

Per Gudmundson

Translated into English by Ilya Meyer with kind permission from Per Gudmundson and Svenska Dagbladet (SvD)
The original article in Swedish can be viewed here on the Svenska Dagbladet (SvD) website.
Michael Fenenbock’s article in English in Israeli daily Yedioth Ahronoth can be viewed here.