STOCKHOLM (AFP/REUTERS) - Sweden on Thursday officially recognised the state of Palestine, Stockholm's Foreign Minister said, less than a month after the government announced its intention to make the controversial move. "Today the government takes the decision to recognise the state of Palestine," Foreign Minister Margot Wallstrom said in a statement published in the Dagens Nyheter daily. "It is an important step that confirms the Palestinians' right to self-determination."
Prime Minister Stefan Lofven told Parliament in his inaugural address in October that his Social Democrat government would deliver on a manifesto promise to recognise a Palestinian state, drawing criticism from Israel and the United States. "Today's recognition is a contribution to a better future for a region that has for too long been characterised by frozen negotiations, destruction and frustration," Mr Wallstrom wrote in the daily Dagens Nyheter. "Some will state this decision comes too soon. I am afraid, rather, that it is too late."
Mr Wallstrom said Sweden's move was aimed at supporting moderate Palestinians and making their status more equal with that of Israel in peace negotiations, as well as giving hope to young people on both sides.
Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas on Thursday hailed Sweden's decision, his spokesman told AFP. "President Abbas welcomes Sweden's decision," Mr Nabil Abu Rudeina told AFP, saying the Palestinian leader described the move as "brave and historic".
Palestinians seek statehood in the Israeli-occupied West Bank and the blockaded Gaza Strip, with East Jerusalem as their capital. They have sought to sidestep stalled peace talks by lobbying foreign powers to recognise their sovereignty claim.
The United Nations General Assembly approved the de facto recognition of the state of Palestine in 2012, but the European Union and most European Union countries have yet to give official recognition. "EU members confirmed in 2009 their readiness to recognise the state of Palestine when it was appropriate," Mr Wallstrom said. "We are now ready to take the lead. We hope this can show the way for others."
Mr Wallstrom said despite the fact that the Palestinian authorities did not have full control of their land and the country did not have fixed borders, Palestine fulfilled the criteria in international law for recognition. "Together with other European countries, as well as the United States and other regional and international organisations, the government will now work to support renewed negotiations to reach a final agreement," Mr Wallstrom said.