(Published in The Jerusalem Post on February 14 and available online at JPost.com)
February 17 marks the fourth anniversary of Kosovo’s unilateral declaration of independence from Serbia. Since that time successive Israeli governments have come under pressure from Washington to recognize Kosovo, but on this issue the raison d’etat has wisely prevailed across the political spectrum.
The UDI has been recognized since by the United States and its key NATO partners, as well as 80-odd other countries. The majority of the world’s sovereign states have refused to do so, however, including two permanent Security Council powers (Russia and China), two budding giants (Brasil and India), five European Union members (including Spain) – and Israel.
Successive Israeli governments have come under pressure from Washington to change their mind, but on this issue the raison d’etat has wisely prevailed across the political spectrum. The similarities between Kosovo and Judea-Samaria are not obvious to the uninitiated, and Israeli diplomats prefer not to spell them out and risk needless tiffs with the Americans. On closer scrutiny those similarities turn out to be significant.
In both cases there’s a small piece of disputed real estate – rich in history, poor in everything else, and badly mismanaged by the local Muslim majority chronically hostile to its non-Muslim neighbors. In both cases that majority craves internationally-recognized statehood, and in both cases the demand is based on a bogus claim of distinct nationhood (“Kosovar” or “Palestinian”) that conceals the broader expansionist agenda – greater- Albanian and Palestinian Arab-Islamic, respectively.
The act of recognition by the major Western powers has opened, in Kosovo’s case, a Pandora’s Box of legal, geopolitical, moral and security issues. It has cemented an already flourishing black hole of lawlessness and endemic corruption and enhanced a potential base for jihad-terrorism deep inside Europe. A repeat scenario between the Jordan and the Green Line would be the last thing Israel needs as it contemplates strategies for containing Iran’s nuclear ambitions, responding to the tectonic change in Egypt and to the crisis in Syria.
The US support for the Kosovo Albanians has adversely affected Israel’s interests in a number of significant ways. It sets the precedent that a solution to an intractable political and territorial quarrel can and should be imposed by force by outside countries, even if one of the parties – in this case Serbia – rejects the proposed solution as contrary to its vital national interests.
The question of how Israel should come to an accommodation with Arab aspirations remains open, but no sane Israeli would suggest that a solution imposed by outsiders, either under the UN or EUNATO aegis, would likely be in Israel’s interest. Washington’s claim that outside powers can award some part of a state’s sovereign territory to a violent ethnic or religious minority with a local plurality – as NATO powers did in Kosovo in 1999 – would put in question not only the future of Judea and Samaria but even southern Galilee and parts of the Negev, where non-Jews have, or may eventually acquire, significant local majorities.
Israel’s Muslim population is now above 20 percent, roughly the same as Serbia’s if Kosovo is included. If Albanian Muslims can demand separation of their majority-inhabited areas from Serbia today, citing alleged past mistreatment, it is an even bet that Israel’s Arabs will invoke that same precedent tomorrow. (Needless to say, Washington’s claims that Kosovo is a one-off issue, a special case, completely sui generis, etc. are not taken seriously by any would-be irredentist or separatist movement.) The readiness of the US administration to circumvent the Security Council, knowing it would block Kosovo’s UDI on international legal grounds, seeks to devalue Russia’s and China’s veto power as such. In light of how many times anti-Israel UNSC Resolutions have been thwarted by a US veto, diminishing the power of the veto per se may prove detrimental to Israel in the future.
More significantly, as has been pointed out by many American policymakers, an overt motivation of US policy on Kosovo is to curry favor in the Islamic world. Such a notion betrays a remarkable naivete that is a form of appeasement. One only need look at American efforts to help create a Palestinian state, to bring “democracy” to Iraq or Afghanistan, or to provide aid to the mujihadin against the Soviet Union in the 1980s to see the value of jihadist gratitude. A complete victory in Kosovo would merely stimulate the demand for further concessions elsewhere, with Israel always the ultimate prize.
Last but not least, proponents of Kosovo independence scoff at the Serbs’ claim that Kosovo, with its many ancient monasteries and the site of the famous battle, represents not just any part of their country but its very heart and soul – “Serbia’s Jerusalem.” Such attitude betrays a cynical contempt for the essence of any true nation’s identity, which necessarily rests on its historical, moral and spiritual roots.
Without such foundation a people ceases to be a people and becomes but a random mob.
If Serbia can be haughtily deprived of her Jerusalem today, and her historical and spiritual claims are dismissed out of hand, who is to say “al- Quds” will not be demanded of Israel tomorrow as the capital of an independent “Palestine”? Let it be added that proponents of Kosovo’s independence overlook or flatly deny the fact that Kosovo’s top Albanian leaders were members of the Kosovo Liberation Army, an organization once regarded as a terrorist group.
Today’s Pristina is more reminiscent of Gaza or Ramallah – with Saudi-financed mosques, chaotically built concrete houses, and roadside rubbish heaps included – than of any European city of comparable size.
The Netanyahu government should continue to stand up to its closest friend and ally, the United States, on an issue many Israelis may consider peripheral.
Israel’s position on Kosovo is a matter of vital national interest on which no government should ever compromise. Ideas matter. So do principles.
The writer is the Co-Founder and Executive Director, The Lord Byron Foundation for Balkan Studies and the Foreign Affairs Editor of Chronicles: A Magazine of American Culture.