Iceland abstained from voting on a ceasefire in Gaza at an emergency meeting of the United Nations General Assembly last Friday. The decision contradicts Iceland’s foreign policy on Palestine and the policy of Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir’s party, the Left-Green Movement. Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir says she was not consulted on the decision.
Katrín told RÚV that she was not consulted before the vote, adding that the decision to abstain from voting is in opposition to Iceland’s official stance on the conflict. “Iceland’s stance was totally clear before the vote, it was that we support a ceasefire for humanitarian reasons,” Katrín Jakobsdóttir told RÚV. She added that it was also her personal stance and that of her party.
Support for Palestine among Icelandic public
Iceland was the first Western country to officially recognise Palestine’s independence and support for the Palestinian cause is relatively strong among the public in Iceland, in part thanks to the work of the Iceland-Palestine Association, founded in 1987. Many locals in Iceland have expressed disappointment and anger at the decision to abstain from the UN vote on a ceasefire. Several public protests have been held in Iceland in support of a ceasefire since the most recent conflict between Israel and Hamas began.
Divisions within governing coalition
Iceland abstaining from the vote on a ceasefire is yet another example of how divided the parties within Iceland’s governing coalition are, Professor of Political Science Eiríkur Bergmann told RÚV. The governing coalition consists of PM Katrín Jakobsdóttir’s Left-Green Movement; the Independence Party led by Bjarni Benediktsson, currently Minister for Foreign Affairs; and the Progressive Party, led by Infrastructure Minister Sigurður Ingi Jóhannsson.
As Foreign Affairs Minister, Bjarni Benediktsson bears responsibility for the UN vote. Bjarni resigned from the position of Finance Minister earlier this month following criticism of his handling of the sale of state-owned bank Íslandsbanki. Following his resignation, his fellow Independence Party MP Þórdís Kolbrún Reykfjörð Gylfadóttir took over as Finance Minister, while Bjarni took over her position as Minister for Foreign Affairs.
Three governments in Iceland
“This is, of course, a very unusual issue, that there has been such a rift in the government over an issue this serious,” Eiríkur stated. “But, of course, this reflects what we have been seeing for a long time now, that there are actually three governments in the country. Each of the three political parties deals with the affairs of their [ministry], and the Independence Party manages foreign affairs, and it is therefore its policy that determines Iceland’s position in this matter, not the policy of other governing parties.”