Thank you all for having me here at this annual Torgny Segerstedt lecture.

I believe that this year – and in these times – we need to remember the ideals of Torgny Segerstedt more than ever.

He was a publicist and academic who stood up for the right to express one’s opinion and was himself a very outspoken writer – most famous for his uncompromising criticism of Nazi Germany in the 1920s and 1930s. His unfailing belief in the freedom of the press has also fascinated me.

For me, respect for freedom of speech is an essential prerequisite for the active engagement of individuals in political processes and in their participation in society as a whole. The right to freedom of opinion and expression is essential to the full enjoyment of other rights and liberties.

Or as Torgny himself put it:

“Press freedom is a good thing in calm and idyllic conditions. In stormy times its existence is a matter of life and death.”

I am sure Torgny would have agreed with me that in times when populism and extreme right-wing movements are once again gaining ground all around Europe, we should all take a moment to consider what our responsibilities are. Not only the media and academia have a responsibility to speak out against injustice and fanatics – all of us have this responsibility.


Today, we will have a panel discussion on the Israel-Palestine issue, and in this opening address I will focus on the ongoing conflict, its consequences and what the Swedish Government believes is the way forward to achieve a two-state solution.

But we cannot focus solely on the conflict at hand. We must also talk about the conditions for peace.

This includes the need for a functioning civil society, full respect for freedom of expression and, of course, all human rights. These are the fundamental tools to help us understand the other side of any conflict.

I would like to talk about four issues that I believe are vital for the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.

  1. Conditions for a two-state solution and Sweden’s recognition
  2. The need for freedom of speech and media freedom
  3. The role of civil society
  4. The role of the UN and the EU in conflict prevention
  • Conditions for a two-state solution and Sweden’s recognition

First of all, let me clarify that the two-state solution is the only viable way forward that meets the stated ambitions of both Palestine and Israel. This is something Swedish governments and the international community have been very clear about for a long time.

I visited Palestine recently; the growing despair among many young Palestinians is palpable and worrying, and so is their growing pessimism about a two-state solution.

For this to change, the two-state solution would improve stability, something that could only be done if both parties take necessary and constructive steps forward. This means that Israel needs to abandon and reverse its settlement policy, which is illegal under international law, violates Security Council resolutions –including the most recently resolution 2334 – and seriously undermines the future of the two-state solution.

Palestine needs to prioritise intra-Palestinian reconciliation, consolidate its state institutions, prepare for elections, promote younger leaders and secure the participation of women.

And most importantly, both parties need to do their utmost to stop incitement, put an end to violence against civilians and respect human rights.

It is obvious that the parties are unable to reach a two-state solution without help from the international community, which has an important role to play. The UN, the EU and the Quartet (the UN, the EU, the United States and Russia) have repeatedly called on the parties to reconfirm their commitment to a two-state solution, and act accordingly. Last month, I took part in the French Government’s initiative of an international summit on these issues. This is a very good example of how the international community must work together to bring about a future negotiation between the parties.

Palestine is recognised today by over 130 states around the world. On 30 October 2014, Sweden decided to recognise the state of Palestine. For us, the reasons for recognition were many: the right to self-determination, strengthening the moderate actors in Palestine, creating hope for young people, but perhaps first and foremost to level the playing field. But let me also be clear that this was not a radical or hasty decision. The EU has an agreement to recognise a Palestinian state “when appropriate”. We believe the right time had come.

After the recognition, Sweden further deepened its relations with Palestine, which opened an embassy in Sweden when President Abbas visited in 2015. Sweden adopted a five-year strategy for Palestine, with a 50 per cent increase in our annual aid budget.

The Government’s goal is to strive for meaningful peace negotiations, democratisation and intra-Palestinian reconciliation. These are all crucial to an independent, viable and democratic Palestinian state.  To make this happen, we must continue to deepen our efforts in the UN Security Council and in the EU.

  • The need for freedom of speech and media freedom

Secondly, we should take a moment to discuss the state of freedom of speech and media freedom in Israel and Palestine. After all, we are here to honour and remember the legacy of Torgny Segerstedt, and for me not to connect these two subjects would be almost an injustice.

In Israel, freedom of speech, press and information is guaranteed by law and by court precedents. The media climate is pluralistic and lively. The right to express one’s opinions without fear of intervention is by and large respected.

Simultaneously, there are tendencies in Israel of a tougher and more polarised climate for freedom of speech. Human rights organisations have expressed concern regarding increasing political interference in the media and actions against journalists and media by public officials.

In Palestine, freedom of speech and media freedom are infringed upon by both Israeli and Palestinian authorities. The Palestinian media rights organisation Mada registered 599 violations of media freedom throughout 2015; 407 were Israeli violations and the remaining were Palestinian.

This shows that respect for basic human rights in Palestine is affected by the occupation. Media freedom is in no way exempt from this.

As the occupying power, Israel is – according to international law – responsible for protecting the Palestinian civilian population and ensuring that their rights are respected. Periods of increased violence, such as during the Gaza war in 2014 and the wave of violence that escalated during 2015, entailed challenges for the whole community, including respect for human rights.

I believe it is important to admit that the media is affected on both sides of this conflict. It is hard to imagine this 50-year-old conflict not affecting the way people communicate and talk about each other. This applies to both the public debate and the media, which often has a very unforgiving tone towards the other side.

Not least in social media, we have seen several examples of how the debate escalates and often incites violence.

  • The role of civil society

I am convinced that an important part of any society is civil society, which is my third point in this address. Civil society is the foundation for building trust in institutions, between neighbours and in promoting meetings between different groups.

Since the middle of last year, Sweden has led a Working Group on Civil Society within the French Middle East Peace Initiative. We have consulted with an equivalent number of Israeli and Palestinian civil society actors on their perception of the two-state solution and how to restore trust in it.

In total, some 150 actors were asked to give their perceptions. The consultation process was warmly welcomed by both Israeli and Palestinian civil society organisations and seen as an inclusive process, allowing a great number of actors to voice their concerns.

On both sides, the hope of a two-state solution seemed to be fading and many questioned whether it was still feasible. They pointed to a growing gap between generations and lack of communication between the Israelis and Palestinians. They also highlighted increasing legislative and other obstacles, by both Israeli and Palestinian authorities, facing civil society actors.

A majority of the Palestinian participants were convinced that the two-state solution is the only way to address the main demands of the Palestinian people and bring long-term stability.

The majority of the Israeli participants expressed deep and growing concern and scepticism about the viability of a two-state solution, given the size of the settlements and its deep institutional and societal support.

For the young generation on both sides, the two-state solution is perceived as a product of the 1990s, superseded by events and developments on the ground. This is something I myself experienced when meeting civil society representatives during my visit in December last year. The frustration that young people feel over the lack of progress is evident everywhere.

The participants in the consultations clearly expressed an interest in continuing the dialogue, so Sweden is planning to host a meeting with civil society representatives from both sides within the next few months.

  • The role of the UN and the EU in conflict prevention

Finally, I would like to emphasise the role of multilateral cooperation in keeping this peace process alive. As I mentioned earlier, it is not realistic at this point to think that Israel and Palestine can initiate such a dialogue without support from the international community.

For Sweden, this means working through the EU, which is our primary foreign policy arena, and in the UN Security Council as a non-permanent member.

The Middle East peace process has been on the Security Council agenda since the UN was founded, and it is a high priority for Sweden as an elected member. Sweden welcomes the historic adoption of Security Council resolution 2334 in December, which is a milestone in resumed efforts to save the two-state solution. We must now encourage the parties to swiftly implement its provisions.

Unfortunately, the recent decision in the Israeli parliament, the Knesset, to legalise settlements in the West Bank is a step in the wrong direction.

In these turbulent times, it is important to protect, promote and implement agreed policy and to remain united in our efforts to strive for the implementation of the two-state solution. Existing EU policy is clear on the basic principles of how the peace process, including Jerusalem as a future capital of two states, the illegality of settlements, differentiation between Israel within the 1967 borders and settlements, and a two-state solution as the only viable solution.

A concrete action from the EU is our common aid programme that supports the daily lives of Palestinians in the fields of education and health, protecting the poorest families and also providing the Palestinian refugees with access to essential services. These are tangible steps on the ground that can improve the lives of the Palestinian people.



The Israel-Palestine situation is an excellent example of how a conflict can continue to affect an entire region’s stability and risk creating unrest and radicalisation. After 50 years of conflict, it may be difficult to imagine any realistic political solution. But we must never forget that even the most hopeless situation can, in fact, change – and it is up to all of us to continue the struggle for dialogue, debate and speaking out against injustice.

Because as Torgny Segerstedt himself once said:

“Nothing is more offensive than the truth.”

Thank you.


Lecture  by Foreign Minister Margot Wallström February 15, 2017, at the University of Gothenburg. Check against delivery.