By Caelum Moffatt
On February 18, 16 countries including the US and European states such as the UK and France, officially recognized the declaration of independence announced by Kosovo’s provisional government just a day earlier.
While Kosovo’s Prime Minister Hashim Thaci jubilantly stated that “we have waited for this day for a very long time…from today, we are proud, independent and free”, permanent UN Security Council member Russia, boasting the backing of fellow veto-wielding member China, has called for an emergency session of the Council, emphasizing that the declaration is illegal and that Kosovo should remain a province of Serbia. Meanwhile, thousands of Serbians are taking to the streets opposing this declaration of independence and other regional nations like Bosnia-Herzegovina, Romania, Croatia and Greece have rejected Kosovo’s independence fearing that it may damage relations with Serbia.
All this pandemonium regarding Kosovo and the possible consequences of its declaration has attracted the attention of many separatist movements striving for self-determination around the globe. Discontented ethnic minorities which may include Kurds in Iraq, the Basques in Spain or the Turkish in Cyprus may be casting an eye towards Kosovo, formulating parallels, analyzing the facts on the ground, evaluating the feasibility of a similar action in their respective areas and pondering how their situations are different to Kosovo. These disenfranchised groups may confusingly reiterate why Kosovo has been extended this luxury of international endorsement for independence over them? If Kosovo has been granted sovereign status, does this insinuate that it will act as a precedent which will gradually lead to their specific issues being addressed and considered in the same manner? Still, no other people have been meticulously assessing the events in Kosovo with more disbelief and bewilderment than the Palestinians.
Last week, Palestinian negotiator Yasser Abed Rabbo claimed that as the peace process with Israel was reaping no results and “going nowhere”, Palestinians should seek “another option”, asserting that “Kosovo is not better than Palestine”. In response to these comments, Abed Rabbo’s superiors were swift to neutralize his enthusiastic and seemingly simple solution. Chief Palestinian negotiator Ahmad Qurei agreed with his colleague by affirming that there had been no progress in the peace process with Israel but warned that it is imperative for Palestine to be thorough and not declare terms before certain decisions have been made first. President Abbas also confirmed that there would be no unilateral declaration of independence and that they would persevere with the peace process until the set deadline at the end of 2008. The president mentioned, however, that even if the deadline approaches without significant developments, Palestine would still not declare independence but “return to our Arab brothers to take the appropriate decision”.
When asked to contextualize Abed Rabbo’s strategy of declaring independence as well as to explain how Palestine is different from Kosovo, Sean McCormack, speaking on behalf of the US State Department rather unconvincingly said that Kosovo was simply a “unique” circumstance where the situation “had run its course, in terms of finding a solution, a negotiated political solution”. On the contrary, McCormack stressed how there was still hope in the Occupied Territories of achieving an agreement and that the process had not yet “run its course”. Conversely, Kremlin official Dmitry Pestov highlighted that Kosovo was “not distinct” from other separatist cases around the globe but would be highly “damaging to the Mideast peace process” and capable of stiffening the resolve of separatist groups to pursue their causes with more vigor and dedication. Hence, who is more accurate in their assessment of the potential ramifications of a sovereign state of Kosovo? Is Kosovo to be viewed as a precedent or an unparalleled unique case?
On the surface, there are a lot of similarities between Kosovo and Palestine. Firstly and most evidently, both are areas with a very violent and complicated history which are fraught with the occupation of different powers depending on the political climate of the era. This makes the task of defining a set identity or right to the place extremely contentious with all the types of people holding tenancy over the land throughout the years. Then there is the emotive aspect. Serbia believes that Kosovo is the base of their culture and the source of their inspiration as a nation. Similarly, Israel views sites in pre-1967 Palestine, such as Jerusalem and Hebron, integral to their people’s heritage, possessing the cornerstones of their traditions and therefore indisputably strengthening their claim to administer them.
Both parties have experienced intimidation and mass immigration at the hands of their aggressors and resorted to similar means to combat their plight. During the Kosovo War [1996-1999], nearly one million ethnic Albanians left or were forcefully removed from Kosovo with around 10,000 killed. Furthermore, the Serbs began relocating their people to areas such as Kosovo, expelling Albanians from their homes to make sufficient space for the influx of their people. If one harks back to 1948, 800,000 Palestinians were expelled from their homes in order to accommodate the new Jewish population of Israel while over four and a half thousand Palestinians have been killed by Israel since 2000, with the number increasing by the day.
Following the Dayton Agreement in 1995, a group of Albanians established the Kosovo Liberation Army [KLA], which adopted guerilla style tactics in retaliation to Serbian presence and were responsible for a great deal of devastation. The nature of this group and their strategy is similar to the Palestine Liberation Organization [PLO] before it was recognized by Israel as the sole representative authority for Palestinians during the Oslo Accords in 1993. The PLO was previously referred to as a “terrorist” group that targeted prominent Israelis.
Furthermore, the declaration of independence is not an unfamiliar concept for either Kosovo or Palestine as both have attempted to ensure their sovereignty in the past. In 1990 and again in 1992 Kosovo proclaimed independence but was only supported by their ethnic allies in Albania and was not recognized internationally. Palestine, however, declared independence on November 15, 1988. Unlike Kosovo, 120 countries around the world accepted this proclamation except the US [strangely enough, the US has already condoned Palestinian independence under the League of Nations Covenant Article 22(4) of 1919 and 1922].
With respect to demographics, the two areas also have a lot in common. 90% of Kosovo consists of ethnic Albanians while 10% of the newly declared state comprises of Serbs, Bosniaks and Turks. In addition the population of Kosovo is just over two million. Excluding east Jerusalem, there are just over two million people in the West Bank also. 87% of these are Palestinians while 13% are Israeli settlers. The UN has trusted the Kosovo government with protecting the minority within their new state while the existence of such a minority is a major issue in the Israel/Palestinian peace process with the Palestinians deemed incapable of assuming responsibility for the minority on their land.
Sean McCormack announced that the diplomatic process regarding Kosovo had “run its course”. International negotiations on the future of Kosovo only started after a seven year presence of UN troops in the area following UNSC resolution 1244. The process lasted two years, mainly due to Russian reservations, but was still approved last week without reaching an agreement with Russia. If the Palestinians were to take the US paradigm of peace processes running their course, then they have labored through 15 more years of negotiations than Kosovo. This factor is bound to raise questions in Palestine. Why is Kosovo so different?
The feeling amongst commentators and the public focuses around two fundamental differences – international involvement and “purpose”. Concerning the former, there has been a UN force on the ground in Kosovo since 1999 helping to create conditions for Kosovo’s prospective autonomy. Although a proposal suggested by the Palestinians, there has never been an international presence on the ground in Palestine at the request of the Israelis. Israel may now be contemplating the possibility of an interim international force in Palestine, but there are still many areas of contention which are far from being resolved, namely Jerusalem, Israeli settlements, borders, Palestinian refugees, Israeli security and water.
Then there is the theory that Palestine does not serve the same “purpose” that an independent Kosovo would. Whereas the US uses its veto power within the Security Council to combat any resolution that is supposedly against Israel as it is a solid US ally in a region where the US is deeply embedded, Russia utilizes this same privilege in the Council with respect to upholding their interests in eastern Europe and the Balkans. Whether it is the installation of missile defense systems in eastern Europe, the victory of the pro-Western Boris Tadic over the Russian-endorsed Tomislav Nikolic [this election coincidently took place just weeks before the declaration of independence by Kosovo] or any move to confront Russia on the pressing issue of EU energy security and therefore diminish Russian influence in eastern Europe, all are seen as a victory for the US and the EU. Palestine has no such “friend” on the Council and cannot compete or serve these interests.
It is no surprise that Islamic fundamentalism is also a major worry for the US and EU with a ubiquitous and ever expanding presence around the world. In 1992, President of Albania Sali Berisha claimed that the war in Kosovo should be perceived as a Muslim Albanian Jihad against Serbia. Shaul Shay wrote in his book “Islamic Terror and the Balkans” that there were more than 15 Islamic charitable funds distributing Saudi Arabian and Iranian money to mujahideen in the Balkans, including Kosovo. Osama Bin Laden is thought to have visited the area and two of the 9/11 bombers had been stationed in the Balkans. A disenfranchised Kosovo could have fuelled Islamic fundamentalism in the area and placed an al-Qaeda base on Europe’s doorstep, therefore greatly threatening US and EU security. An independent Kosovo could suppress the movement and take away the impetus for joining.
Another factor Palestine must consider is that one can always find comparisons if looking intently enough, but no two instances are ever the same, especially when attempting to compare two peoples geographically detached, surrounded by different circumstances and with internal complexities exclusive to their region.
McCormack may be criticized for his vagueness and tone but the message was accurate. Kosovo is “unique” – to the US anyway. If Palestine wants self-determination in its purest and most incorruptible form, they must vehemently refuse the comparison with Kosovo. As highlighted in a succinct article by Sara Flounders, Kosovo is not receiving independence but assuming the role of a US colony which will not just be administered with US and NATO supervision but will be entirely controlled by them. To begin with, the motion is illegal. UNSC resolution 1244 stipulated the “commitment of all member states to the sovereignty and territorial integrity” of Serbia, a republic of Yugoslavia. Further, the High Representative bodies, who will essentially control domestic and foreign policy, will be appointed by the US and EU. In addition, these bodies will have superseding authority over law, taxation and the economics of Kosovo. The NATO presence will also remain and be in charge of foreign policy, the police, security, the judiciary and the prisons.
Luckily, Palestine does not serve the interests of the US. Peace may be desperately coveted and may be viewed as equally, if not more deserving than Kosovo, but this is no reason to rush the issue and adopt the Kosovo model. The situation in Palestine is also “unique” and thus requires an alternative paradigm, which is currently under construction. Kosovo is merely another example of the imperialistic superpower of the age asserting its influence and dominance over an area by making medieval-esque arrangements with allies in the region, creating instability and distributing propaganda in order to gradually execute their scrupulous plan, which will ultimately serve their own interests. Just as in previous periods of history, Kosovo’s influence on its own future will be minimal and operate under extremely strict parameters while the “foreign” presence will be as encompassing and intrusive as ever before. However, in the twenty-first century this degree of external involvement is legitimized by the claim that it is granted in the name of “democracy”.
-Caelum Moffatt is a regular contributor to MIFTAH – www.miftah.org – where this article was originally published – Feb 25)