STOCKHOLM - Sweden's center-left government on Thursday officially recognized the state of Palestine, becoming the first major European country to do so.
The EU member country joined only two other Western European countries -- Malta and Cyprus -- that have officially recognized a Palestinian state.
Swedish Foreign Minister Margot Wallstrom said the Scandinavian country had decided on the move because the criteria of international law required for such recognition had been fulfilled.
"There is a territory, a people and government," she told reporters in Stockholm.
Wallstrom said she hopes Sweden's "excellent cooperation (with Israel) would continue" nevertheless and that the decision would be met in Jerusalem "in a constructive way."
Israel was quick to condemn Sweden's move, however.
Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman described it as "a miserable decision that strengthens the extremist elements and Palestinian rejectionism."
He added: "It's a shame that the government of Sweden chose to take a declarative step that only causes harm."
The 28-nation European Union has said it would recognize a Palestinian state "when appropriate," and has urged that negotiations to achieve a two-state solution be resumed as soon as possible.
In a symbolic move, British lawmakers earlier this month voted in favor of recognizing Palestine as a state.
Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Lofven told parliament in his inaugural address in October that his Social Democrat government would deliver on a manifesto promise to recognise a Palestinian state.
"Today's recognition is a contribution to a better future for a region that has for too long been characterised by frozen negotiations, destruction and frustration," Wallstrom wrote in the daily Dagens Nyheter on Thursday.
"Some will state this decision comes too soon. I am afraid, rather, that it is too late."
Palestinians seek statehood in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, with East Jerusalem as their capital. They have sought to sidestep stalled peace talks by lobbying foreign powers to recognise their sovereignty claim.
Wallstrom said Sweden's move aimed at supporting moderate Palestinians and making their status more equal with that of Israel in peace negotiations, as well as giving hope to young people on both sides.
The United Nations General Assembly approved the de facto recognition of the state of Palestine in 2012, but the European Union and most EU countries have yet to give official recognition.
"EU members confirmed in 2009 their readiness to recognise the state of Palestine when it was appropriate," Wallstrom said.
"We are now ready to take the lead. We hope this can show the way for others."
Wallstrom said despite the fact that Palestinian authorities did not have full control of their land and the country did not have fixed borders, Palestine fulfilled the criteria in international law for recognition.
"Together with other European countries, as well as the United States and other regional and international organisations, the government will now work to support renewed negotiations to reach a final agreement," Wallstrom said.
Correction: The article previously stated that the Swedish embassy had claimed Stockholm would only recognize the state of Palestine at the conclusion of Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. The embassy has since told Ynetnews that it never made such a statement.