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Norway updates policy on Israel, Jerusalem and Palestinian state

A pro-Israel NGO says it convinced Oslo to change its recognition of Jerusalem as the Israeli capital and clarify that it doesn’t recognize a Palestinian state.

Map of Norway. Credit: hyotographics/Shutterstock.
Map of Norway. Credit: hyotographics/Shutterstock.

The Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs conceded last November to the pro-Israel NGO With Israel for Peace (Med Israel for fred, or MIFF) that capital cities are not subject to recognition by other countries.

At some point following a March 7 letter from MIFF, Norway changed its website to note that it recognizes Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and does not recognize a Palestinian state.

“The changes are important, because the updated text is now correct, and it does not treat Israel differently than other countries,” Conrad Myrland, general manager of MIFF, told JNS.

The bulk of the international community has long claimed that it doesn’t recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital due to the lack of settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Israel has countered that no other country has been denied the right to select its own capital.

In late 2022, MIFF questioned under what circumstances Norway recognized capital cities established over the last century, including the likes of Canberra (1923, Australia), Brasilia (1960, Brazil), Abuja (1991, Nigeria), Putrajaya (1999, Malaysia) and Naypyidaw (2005, Myanmar).

MIFF asked whether Norway has recognized those capitals and under what process the recognition, if any, was given?

Tuva Bogsnes, head of communications for the foreign ministry, replied that “a country’s choice of capital is not in itself subject to recognition from other countries. Thus, there is also no document available from the Norwegian authorities that formally recognizes ‘new’ capitals in individual countries,” according to correspondence MIFF posted online.

While seemingly a manifest statement, it showed Oslo’s hypocrisy when it came to recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

That set the stage for MIFF’s letter to the ministry, pointing out several pieces of text on the ministry’s website that go against Norway’s stated positions or were misleading—or both.

MIFF added that Norway placed notations next to the capitals of only three other countries. In two instances, Amsterdam and the Ivory Coast, it was to show that the capital and seat of governments are in different cities; and in the third, Kosovo, to show that the country declared its independence from Serbia in 2008.

The city of Jerusalem. Credit: Pixabay.

‘There has been a need for some adjustments’

As recently as June 6, 2022, Norway’s foreign affairs ministry referred on its website to Jerusalem being Israel’s “capital according to Knesset’s decision 30 July 1980.” It added at the time that Norway did not recognize Jerusalem as the Israeli capital, citing the U.N. Security Council’s Resolution 478.

MIFF called for corrections to both notations.

In its Jerusalem Law, the Knesset declared Jerusalem the “complete and united” capital of Israel in 1980, after applying sovereignty to the eastern part of the city, including the Old City. However, the Knesset first declared Jerusalem as its capital in 1950.

Additionally, Resolution 478, which passed in 1980, declares the Jerusalem Law illegal, and that U.N. member states would not recognize the law’s validity. However, as MIFF pointed out, the resolution has nothing to do with Israel’s 1950 selection of Jerusalem as its capital, so Norway’s notation of the resolution was misleading.

After MIFF’s inquiry, Norway has made significant changes.

“We have assessed the information about Israel and Palestine on our websites and have come to the conclusion that there has been a need for some adjustments,” the foreign affairs ministry’s Middle East and North Africa section wrote to MIFF on April 28. “We thank MIFF for its involvement in this matter.”

Norway’s website now notes that Israel “proclaimed in 1949” Jerusalem as its capital, which is not completely accurate, but much closer to the true 1950 date than was a reference to 1980. The website also added that “final status issues [are] subject to negotiations in accordance with the Oslo Agreement,” and that Norway’s embassy is located in Tel Aviv.

Israeli Ambassador to Norway and Iceland Avi Nir-Feldklein. Source: Twitter.

In a confusing move, Norway still references Resolution 478 but added a note to U.N. General Assembly Resolution 181, which in 1947 stipulated that Jerusalem should be an international zone for 10 years, followed by a referendum to decide the city’s status.

U.N. General Assembly resolutions are non-binding, MIFF points out, and Arab nations, as well as Arabs in Israel, did not accept the resolution.

In discussions with Norway, MIFF also addressed its Palestine page.

As recently as last July 7, Norway only made note that Jerusalem was the capital of Palestine with Ramallah as its administrative seat. Unlike on its Israel page, it made no mention of U.N. resolutions, and it did not detail when Palestine proclaimed its capital nor did it say that Norway did not recognize Palestine.

After receiving MIFF’s letter, Norway updated the Palestine page, which now notes: “Norway has not recognized Palestine as a state.”

Norway now explains that the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) proclaimed Jerusalem as the Palestinian capital in 1988. The page now also references U.N. Resolutions 181 and 478, and notes that “final status issues [are] subject to negotiations in accordance with the Oslo Agreement,” matching its notations on its Israel page.

The country also now notes that its representative office to the Palestinians is located in Al-Ram, northeast of and outside Jerusalem.

‘Not translate into different practice at this moment’

In response to JNS questions, Israeli Ambassador to Norway and Iceland Avi Nir-Feldklein said: “As part of our close and good exchange with our Norwegian colleagues at the MFA (Ministry of Foreign Affairs) in Oslo, we conduct our relations with them directly and not through public channels.”

The Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs deferred comment on the matter to Nir-Feldklein.

The Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs told JNS that its Middle East team was working on this week’s Ad Hoc Liaison Committee meeting in Brussels and would need more time to address the questions posed about the changes.

As to whether he thought the changes will lead to differences in real-world diplomacy,  Myrland said he was playing the long game.

“We regret to admit it, but we do not think it will translate into different practice at this moment,” Myrland told JNS. “But MIFF’s long-term goal is to see the Norwegian embassy moved to Israel’s capital.”

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