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Kosovo and Palestine

Yossi Alpher
5 March 2008

If the current Israeli-Palestinian peacenegotiations fail - at the time of writing they have been suspended by thePalestinian side in protest at Israel'smilitary response to rocket fire from Gaza - the Palestinian leaders in Ramallahostensibly have three options:

YossiAlpher is co-editor ofthe bitterlemons family of internet publications. He is aformer director of the Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies at Tel Aviv University, and was a special adviser toformer Israeli prime minister, Ehud Barak.

Also by Yossi Alpher in openDemocracy:

"An international solution?" (9 May 2002) - with Ghassan Khatib

"Two separate roadmaps: anIsraeli view"(29 May 2003)

"Riyadh's Arab summit: a preciousopportunity"(28 March 2007)

"Israel: you can't reverse time" (7 June 2007)

"Israel-West Bank-Gaza: the future" (18 June 2007)

"Gaza's agency, Israel's choice" (29 January 2008)

This article was firstpublished in the independent website BitterLemons.org* they can launch a third intifada in the West Bank

* they can petition the internationalcommunity to compel Israelto accept a single bi-national state solution

* they can declare independence.

The last option was considered - and rejected- by Palestinian president, Yasser Arafat, during the more difficult stages ofthe Oslo peaceprocess. It has now been resurrected by Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO)executive committee member Yasser Abed Rabbo and others. Their inspiration is Kosovo. They advocate declaringindependence within the 4 June 1967 borders as a means of galvanising Arab andinternational support.

The differences between the Kosovo model and aPalestinian unilateral declaration of independence are substantive. To take three of the mostobvious: first, the Ramallah-based Palestinian leadership does not control theGaza strip nor much of the West Bank, whereas the Kosovars controlled the entiretyof their territory with the help of an international force on the eve of independence;second, the Israeli leadership welcomes a two-state solution based on the 4 June1967 lines, whereas Serbia insists that Kosovo is partof that state; third, the PLO already declared independence once, in 1988, andenjoys diplomatic representation throughout the nations of the world, yet thebenefits of that act for the cause of a genuine Palestinian state have been limited.

Under these circumstances, a Palestinian moveto (again) declare independence is liable to be perceived widely as desperateand pathetic rather than heroic and triumphant. Yasser Abed Rabbo himself notes that his embrace of the idea is largely anattempt to stimulate the current unproductive two-state negotiations and fendoff pressures by some of his fellow Palestinians to demand a bi-national statesolution. Nevertheless, the Kosovo declaration of independence on 17 February 2008 raisesthree interesting and relevant issues for the Israeli-Palestinian case.

The first is the fact that, from the Serbianstandpoint, this is an imposed solution. As Serbian foreign minister VukJeremic warned on 27 February 2008: "Recognising theunilateral declaration of Kosovo's independence from Serbia legitimises the doctrine ofimposing solutions for ethnic conflicts". Needless to say, it is Serbia's horrific behaviour toward the Kosovarsover the years that led the west to impose this solution, while Israel hasconsistently avoided any similar situation in its conflict with thePalestinians. But there are Arabs, Israelis and others who insist that the onlypossible solution for our conflict is an imposed one, and they will drawencouragement from the Kosovo model.

Among openDemocracy's recent articles on Serbia and the Kosovoissue:

Juan Garrigues, "Kosovo'stroubled victory" (7 December 2007)

GinanneBrownell, "Kosovo'sSerbs in suspension" (10 December2007)

Mary Kaldor, "The Balkans-Caucasus tangle: states and citizens" (9January 2008)

John O'Brennan, "Kosovo: the hour of Europe" (14 January 2008)

Eric Gordy, "Serbiachooses a future, just" (5 February 2008)

Robert Elsie, "Kosova and Albania: history, people,identity" (21 February2008)

DraganKlaic, "Serbia: an old script, replayed" (27 February 2008) The second relevant issue emerging from Kosovois the role of the European Union. In effect, the EU is trying to embrace bothKosovo and Serbia and highlight the huge benefits for each of solving thisconflict within a European community context that offers economic prosperity as well as adiminution of the significance of national borders and a downgrading of ethnicconflicts. Here, too, there are Arabs and Israelis who see the solution to theIsraeli-Palestinian conflict in a similar European context. They note that, despiteits difficulties with Turkey, the EU is anxious to absorb Muslim Kosovo,thereby accelerating the precedent for membership by additional non-Christiancountries.

Under present circumstances, an EU solution for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict appearsfar-fetched. But the notion of a regional solution has already been embraced bythe Arab League in the form of the Arab peace initiative. Hopefully the league,where voices have recently been raised threatening cancellation of theinitiative, will now draw encouragement from the Kosovo model and more activelypursue its plan.

The third issue is that the Kosovo drama isnot over. The partition borders imposed on Serbia are untenable for thatcountry largely because of the historical memory of the battle lost in Kosovo by the Serbs to the Ottomans in 1389. Thepresence in Kosovo of a large Serbian population that borders on Serbia, and ofother communities throughout the territory, is significant here. While the Serbs and Kosovars refused todiscuss partition of Kosovo to accommodate the Serbian national narrative priorto Kosovo's independence, doing so now might be a way to end the standoffcreated by that act.

In other words, an imposed solution thatleaves one of the parties as desperate as the Serbs may be only a prelude toadditional negotiations and compromises. This is a message that resonates withIsraelis and Palestinians.

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