“Sweden voted no because we are of the opinion that this was a decision at the wrong time. Without strengthening the Palestinian cause… it will weaken UNESCO and its important work,” Sweden’s foreign minister Carl Bildt said in a comment on Monday.
Bildt defended Sweden’s record on the status of Palestine arguing that the country is “among the strongest and clearest voices” on the issue.
He furthermore said that it was “unfortunate” that the EU was unable to unite on a common position before the UNESCO vote and claimed that the Palestinians had not considered the full implications.
“It is a situation of which I have the impression that also Palestine stumbled in on without having thought it through properly.”
UNESCO voted resoundingly on Monday to admit Palestine as a member state. The vote was carried by 107 votes in favour of admission and 14 votes against, with 52 abstentions.
Sweden was joined by the US, Germany and Canada in voting against the application.
All that remains is for the Palestinians to ratify the UNESCO’s constitution to become a full member state in the UN organ.
The Palestinians have applied for full membership of the United Nations, an application which is however considered likely to fail due to the US holding a veto as a permanent member of the Security Council.
According to political commentator Ulf Bjereld, the Swedish decision to oppose membership was due to internal divisions within the Alliance coalition government.
“The Alliance government is very divided on the question of the future status of Palestine in the UN,” Bjereld wrote in a blog post on Tuesday.
“The Centre Party has spoken out in favour of Sweden at the United Nations to recognize Palestine as an independent state, the Christian Democrats are uncertain, the Moderates duck the issue and the Liberals have said an unequivocally no,” he explained.
The Liberal Party (Folkpartiet) are known to oppose a Palestinian membership of the UN and the Swedish UNESCO delegation is led by EU minister and Liberal party member Birgitta Ohlsson.
In a statement released by Liberal Party leader Jan Björklund after the vote, he explained that Sweden had taken note of the Security Council stand.
“Our vote… should be seen in the perspective of how important we see it to reach a two-state solution within the timescale fixed by the Quartet on the Middle East,” referring to the US, the EU, the UN and Russia who are involved in mediating the peace process in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
“It does not prejudge in any way Sweden’s position on the issue of Palestine’s status if it is taken up in the UN General Assembly,” the statement concluded.
The Swedish decision however drew criticism from some quarters on Tuesday with former Green Party spokesperson, Maria Wetterstrand, comparing the decision to Sweden’s approach to the Baltic States in the early 1990s.
“The government’s ‘wrong time’ on Palestine sounds like quite a few Social Democrats sounded when the Baltic states sought recognition. Equally misguided, I think,” she said via Twitter.