Disappointed in Icelandic Government’s Response to Gaza

Icelandic government Palestine protest

Locals in Iceland have held regular protests outside the Icelandic government’s cabinet meetings since the most recent conflict between Israel and Hamas began on October 7. Protesters are calling on the government to condemn Israeli authorities for their actions and use its influence to call for a ceasefire in the conflict. Iceland abstained from voting on a ceasefire in an emergency meeting of the UN last month.

Call on government to condemn Israel’s actions

“We are here to tell the government of Iceland that it has not done its job in these matters, because it has only condemned Hamas. It has not yet gotten around to condemning Israel and the atrocities that are currently being committed. And the performance at the UN is of course shameful,” Hjálmtýr Heiðdal, chairman of the Iceland-Palestine Association, told RÚV reporters at this morning’s protest. A sizeable group gathered to wave flags, chant in support of Palestine, and express their disappointment towards cabinet ministers.

Iceland was the first Western country to officially recognise Palestine’s independence and support for the Palestinian cause is fairly strong among the Icelandic public. The Iceland-Palestine Association chaired by Hjálmtýr was founded in 1987.

Minister for Foreign Affairs Bjarni Benediktsson, who recently took on the position after resigning as Minister of Finance stated that he was not consulted on the UN General Assembly ceasefire vote. In a recent press conference, he refused to call Israel’s bombing of refugee camp Jabalia as an “attack on a refugee camp,” insisting it was “a matter of how you approach it.”

Iceland Abstains from UN Gaza Vote, Causing Tension

Katrín Jakbosdóttir, Bjarni Benediktsson Ríkissjórn Alþingi

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.”

Iceland Donates Field Hospital to Ukraine

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy

Representatives in Alþingi have proposed a resolution to authorise the Foreign Minister to secure the purchase of a mobile emergency hospital for Ukraine.

The mobile emergency hospital would be used by injured Ukrainian soldiers and civilians affected by the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Read more: Zelenskyy to Meet with Nordic Leaders in Helsinki

Since the beginning of the Russian invasion, Iceland has also accepted some 3,000 Ukrainian refugees. Iceland’s support from 2022 to 2023 for Ukraine amounts to approximately 4.5 billion ISK [$32 million, €30 million] in humanitarian and financial aid.

The hospital in question is designed to care for both wounded soldiers and civilians, and can be operated independently without connection to existing infrastructure.

Ukrainian authorities have informed Icelandic authorities of the urgent need for mobile field hospitals for wounded soldiers and have requested Iceland’s assistance in this matter. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has repeatedly expressed gratitude for Iceland’s overwhelming support for Ukraine in his meetings with the Icelandic Prime Minister.

Three hospitals of this type have already been sent to Ukraine, and three more are requested. The production time for such a hospital is about six months, and the estimated cost is approximately 1.2 billion ISK [$8.6 million, €7.9 million].

Icelandic MPs Condemn Gaza Attacks

MPs from three opposition parties in the Foreign Affairs Committee condemned the Israeli army’s attacks on civilians in Gaza in a committee protocol this morning, RÚV reports. The Progressive Party’s parliamentary MPs also released a statement condemning the Israeli army’s attacks on Palestinians, calling them a gross violation of international agreements and international law as well as a crime against humanity. MPs from both governing and opposition parties put forth a resolution yesterday proposing that Alþingi condemn the Israeli military’s acts of violence against the Palestinian nation.

Iceland’s parliament discussed the ongoing violence in Palestine and Israel today. Social-Democratic Alliance MP Rósa Björk Brynjólfsdóttir called it “intolerable” that air strikes were targeted at civilians and criticised other MPs in the Foreign Affairs Committee for not taking a stand for human rights. “It is noteworthy that MPs from the Left-Green Movement or the Progressive Party did not trust themselves to be included in this protocol, which was submitted and approved by MPs from the other parties.” She said their abstinence was a disappointment and accused the two parties of being “under the heel” of the Independence Party. The three parties – Left-Green, Progressive, and Independent – currently form the governing coalition under Left-Green Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir. Both Bryndís Haraldsdóttir, MP for the Independence Party, and Bjarkey Olsen Gunnarsdóttir, MP for the Left-Greens, agreed with Rósa Björk and called for a ceasefire.

Discuss Gaza With US Secretary of State

Iceland’s Foreign Affairs Minister, Prime Minister, and President all discussed the situation in Gaza with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken yesterday during his official visit in Reykjavík. Upon his arrival to Harpa concert hall yesterday morning, Blinken was greeted by a group of protesters holding signs in support of Palestine. During a press conference shortly after, Blinken referenced US President Joe Biden’s recent statement that “Israel, like every country, has the right to defend itself against attacks.” He added, however, that the US’ goal is “to bring the current cycle of violence to an end as quickly as possible.” Both the US and Iceland officially support a two-state solution for the region.

Iceland has shown both official and unofficial support of the Palestinian cause in recent years. In 2011, Iceland was the first Western country to recognise Palestine as an independent state. In 2019, Iceland’s national broadcaster RÚV was fined by the European Broadcasting Union due to the behaviour of Iceland’s representatives Hatari at the Eurovision Song Contest that year, which took place in Israel. The band members of Hatari brandished banners reading “Palestine” in the Palestinian flag colours in the Eurovision green room during the event’s live filming.

Blinken And Lavrov To Attend Arctic Council Meeting in Reykjavík

raven krummi hrafn ís ice winter

United States Secretary of States Antony Blinken confirmed yesterday that he would represent the US at next month’s ministerial meeting of the Arctic Council. Previously, Russia’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Sergei Lavrov had confirmed that he would also be attending, leading the Russian delegation as Russia will be taking over the Council’s chairmanship. Lavrov and Blinken’s meeting in Reykjavík would be their first.

Iceland’s 2019-2021 chairmanship of the Arctic Council is officially ending at the Council’s ministerial meeting in Reykjavík May 19-20. All participating countries of the Arctic Council and leaders of indigenous councils were invited to the meeting but requested to keep their delegations small for infection prevention purposes.

Foreign officials arriving for the meeting will follow regulations for a working quarantine, an option available to “ensure continued operation or to do work that can’t be postponed,” and subject to Chief Epidemiologist approval. Lavrov and Blinken will be in the same quarantine, meaning they could meet while they were here.

During Iceland’s Chairmanship of the Arctic Council, the theme was sustainable development and the four priorities were The Arctic Marine Environment, Climate and Green Energy Solutions, People and Communities of the Arctic, and a Stronger Arctic Council. In a speech yesterday, Secretary Blinken’s topic was America’s global climate leadership and how American foreign policy would be addressing the climate crisis. He stated: “We will convey a strong message to the meeting of the G7 next month, whose members produce a quarter of the world’s emissions.  And I’ll also represent the United States at next month’s ministerial meeting of the Arctic Council, where I’ll reaffirm America’s commitment to meeting our climate goals and encourage other Arctic nations to do the same.”

He also mentioned the possibility that a rapidly heating Arctic could be a source of international conflict. Blinken stated: “In February, a Russian gas tanker sailed through the Arctic’s Northern Sea Route for the first time ever.  Until recently, that route was only passable a few weeks each year.  But with the Arctic warming at twice the rate of the rest of the global average, that period is getting much longer.  Russia is exploiting this change to try to exert control over new spaces.  It is modernizing its bases in the Arctic and building new ones, including one just 300 miles from Alaska.  China is increasing its presence in the Arctic, too.”