The visit to Israel last month by US President Donald Trump was hard to miss. Around the world, scrutinizing eyes waited for him to either make a serious gaffe or some hugely meaningful gesture, depending on people’s previously formed opinions of the president who definitely has a style of his own.
As I wrote at the time, although there was neither a major foul-up nor a significant move – such as announcing the move of the US embassy to Jerusalem – the visit was important and sent out a strong message that the new resident of the White House intended strengthening the ties with Israel, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and other states that feel threatened by Iran. These are relations that Barack Obama had managed to turn frosty despite the heat of the Middle East.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu clearly enjoyed hosting the Trumps.
Altogether, Netanyahu and President Reuven Rivlin have been on a roll lately, hosting leaders from all around the world, including Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn and Baron Waqa, the president of the tiny Pacific island, Nauru, which is a strong supporter of Israel in the UN, an arena where open friends are sadly lacking.
Another president visited Israel last week. But although Vit Jedlicka, president of Liberland, was undoubtedly enthusiastic about Israel, Israel is not in a position to return the compliment.
Liberland is a peculiar country; not to be confused with the African state of Liberia with which Israel is also enjoying warmer ties. I first heard of the self-proclaimed country when Jedlicka was interviewed during his visit on Channel 10’s quirky Hazinor
nighttime current affairs program. Hazinor
anchor Guy Lehrer introduced viewers to the president of what claims to be the “youngest country in the world,” situated in a disputed patch of land of seven square kilometers (less than three square miles) on the banks of the Danube on the Croatian-Serbian border. The nascent would-be state – which has just one, dilapidated, building – is under a complete blockade by Croatia so that its nearly half a million citizens, including the president, have no access to it. Not that that seems to dampen the enthusiasm of the young and cheerful Jedlicka.
In 2015, the Czech-born politician and activist, along with a few friends, planted a flag on the no-man’s land, which is unclaimed by either of its much larger neighbors, Croatia and Serbia. Apart from its own flag, the Free Republic of Liberland, to give it its full name, has its own motto: “To live and let live.” It might not be original as slogans go, but as the basis of a state constitution it is surprising.
The “president-in-exile,” in his early thirties, would like to turn the nano-nation into a modern Utopia, at least for libertarians: There are very few laws (only five, according to some accounts) and taxes are on a voluntary basis.
“Liberland prides itself on personal and economic freedom of its people, which is guaranteed by the Constitution,” its website proudly announces.
The further you dig, the more “virtual” this state seems to be with citizenship available by online registration and the Bitcoin as currency for its so-far uninhabited patch of land. It is, however, looking for more citizens “who have respect for other people and respect the opinions of others, regardless of their race, ethnicity, orientation, or religion: have respect for private ownership which is untouchable; and were not punished for past criminal offenses.”
It is easy to dismiss Liberland. I’m not sure how seriously its own citizens take themselves, but as long as no blood is shed in its efforts to gain independence, I wish it well. If nothing else, it reminds me of the old films of tiny self-proclaimed states such as Passport to Pimlico
and The Mouse that Roared
, the movie starring Peter Sellers about the fictional Duchy of Grand Fenwick which ends up declaring war on the US when its economy, based solely on a certain type of wine, collapses due to a cheaper Californian brand.
Such stories are good for laughs. Other struggles are deadly serious.
Among the main reasons that Israel’s diplomatic standing is on the rise is that few places in the world can be considered immune to the threat of terrorism.
My imagination was passingly grabbed by the boldness of Liberland, but back in the real world, there is an ongoing attempt to gain national independence that is much closer to my heart.
Last week, Iraq’s Kurds, led by Kurdistan Regional Government President Masoud Barzani, announced they would be holding a referendum on independence on September 25. A de facto Kurdish state already exists in northern Iraq. The aim of the referendum is to grant it international recognition. This is not going to go down well with either Iraq or Turkey, both of whom have sizable Kurdish minorities.
In the past, Netanyahu has openly called for Kurdish independence and this week, as reported by The Jerusalem Post
’s Gil Hoffman, the prime minister’s former No. 2 on the Likud list, Gideon Sa’ar, called on both Israel and the US to help create an independent, democratic Kurdistan.
Indeed, several Israeli ministers and politicians have come out in favor of Kurdish self-determination.
The timing seems right. In fact, it is long overdue. The Kurds, as reported first-hand by the Post’s Seth J. Frantzman among others, have bravely fought Islamic State on the ground, at a bloody cost. Male and female Peshmerga soldiers have participated in the battle against Islamist terrorism. They should be rewarded.
Similarly, the Kurds seek to prevent Iran from fully establishing what has been described as “The Shi’ite Crescent,” from Iran to Lebanon on the Mediterranean and Yemen on the Red Sea.
Sa’ar, among others, believes that with Trump in the White House, the Kurds now have a better chance of gaining independence than before.
It does not, however, depend entirely on external recognition. In order to create a viable state, the Kurds must renounce and denounce terrorism. They cannot demand independence at the same time that every terror attack in Turkey leads to the question: Was it ISIS or the Kurds?
Similarly, they need to get over their internal power struggles and the split between different factions.
This is not the first time I have publicly supported Kurdish independence. My Jerusalem neighborhood is populated largely by Kurdish- and Iraqi-born Jews forced to leave by the Iraqi government after the establishment of the State of Israel, the refugees that no-one wants to talk about.
The Kurds deserve an independent free state no less – in fact a lot more – than the Palestinians. They are a distinct people, with their own language, history and customs. They are Muslims who have proven themselves fighting Islamist extremism, not adopting it. No wonder so many feel a natural affinity with Israel and the Jewish people.
Like Israel, with whom it would be an obvious natural ally, Kurdistan has already been forced to fight to protect itself – and helped defend the rest of the world at the same time.
The referendum looks set to ask one question: “Do you support an independent Kurdistan?” The answer for anyone who truly wants to deal a blow to terrorism supported by either the Islamic State or the Islamic Republic of Iran must be a resounding “Yes.”[email protected]