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Reviewed by:
  • Small-State Mediation in International Conflicts: Diplomacy and Negotiations in Israel-Palestine by Jacob Eriksson
  • Michael Schulz (bio)
Small-State Mediation in International Conflicts: Diplomacy and Negotiations in Israel-Palestine, by Jacob Eriksson, 2015. London and New York: I.B. Tauris, 2015. 288 pages. $99.

In this study, Jacob Eriksson offers a thorough analysis of the substantial roles Norway and Sweden have played in official and unofficial Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations. We gain new insights on the various involved actors and the rationale for their actions. Eriksson claims “While it is true that the nature and context of the conflict are the most decisive variables in determining the outcomes of mediation, the nature of the mediator and the mediation strategy pursued are nonetheless critical” (p. 2). The merits of this study are primarily reflected in its significant contribution to the relatively young field of mediation and facilitation research. Eriksson offers solid and wide-ranging theoretical input, helping enrich our understanding of the role that small-state actors can play in protracted conflicts and thereby contribute to attempts to transform them. The book is based on interviews with those involved in, and documents linked to negotiations, showing that ‘‘A number of significant breakthroughs and positive developments have taken place, but the United States has not been directly in any of them” (p. 3).

Eriksson points to the relative importance that small states’ noncoercive mediating strategies can have in changing perceptions and providing the conflict parties with alternatives to seemingly deadlocked positions on the key issues in the conflict. However, this is not to suggest that mediating actors have formulated and presented at the negotiation tables ideas on how to solve the key issues of the conflict (e.g., Israeli security, Palestinian statehood, Jerusalem, Israeli settlements, and Palestinian refugees). It was, instead, the long-term strategy of pushing for international law and human rights principles, as well as the direct strategy involving various meetings between Israelis and Palestinians — as well as the facilitation itself — that fostered mutual trust between them, boosting creativity on how it was and is possible to handle the issues.

In essence, the analysis of Sweden’s relations with the conflicting parties begins at the end of World War II, when Swedish diplomat Raoul Wallenberg saved the lives of tens of thousands of Jews in Hungary, and ends even after the difficult times of the second Palestinian uprising. Sweden developed relations with both the Israeli and the Palestinian sides. The governing Swedish Social Democratic Party established close relations in particular with the Israeli Labor Party. The book also shows how the Social Democrats had formed, early on, a foreign policy doctrine, based on the position of neutrality between the two superpowers in the Cold War period. This also meant taking an impartial, but principled position in relation to international law and human rights in several internationalized conflicts. Swedish Social Democrats, led by Olof Palme, were guided by the sense of duty “‘oblig[ing] us to make common cause with the oppressed and fight on their side against the powers which exploits them’” (p. 63). This also implied acknowledgement of the Palestinians as a people and their national rights. Hence, Sweden recognized the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) early on, and pushed diplomatically, as one of the pioneering international actors, for a two-state solution. This Swedish policy remained unchanged despite shifts in government, as when the Social Democrats ceded power in 1976 to a nonsocialist coalition, regained it in 1982, and then suffered the loss of their long-time standard bearer, Palme, who was assassinated in 1986. It is in this context that, according to Eriksson, the late Swedish foreign minister Sten Andersson played an instrumental role in the late 1980s in bringing about a diplomatic relationship between the PLO and the United States, which helped pave the way for the Oslo peace process.

Eriksson also discusses the de facto division of labor between Norway and Sweden as mediators, which was partly due to the fact that the Social Democrats had lost [End Page 486] the Swedish national elections. Sweden remained a close, but increasingly critical friend of Israel, undertaking simultaneously the role to counterbalance the asymmetric power...


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pp. 486-487
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