Analysis: The Balkan beat [tinder] box

Israel fears Kosovo may push Palestinians to follow suit.

kosovo celebration 224 (photo credit: AP)
kosovo celebration 224
(photo credit: AP)
The Balkan Beat Box is a NY-based Israeli electro-folk band that fuses mystical Jewish influences with the sounds of the Balkans. The band, which performed in Israel over the weekend and moves next to Canada, is taking the world by storm. The mix of Balkan influences and Western electronic music make this band's performances explosive. This is hardly surprising given the geographical sources of the emotions, history and national pride from which their music comes: the Middle East and the Balkans, both explosive regions where the intermingling of peoples and conflicts sometimes flare up, in the most violent way possible. Hundreds of thousands of people have died in wars in the Balkans in the 20th century, and our region is no stranger to war. In 1914, the Balkan wars spread across the globe, and millions were embroiled in the firestorm, whose embers eventually lit the fire of World War II and the Holocaust. No wonder Israel is having such a hard time deciding whether to recognize the new nation of Kosovo, and when to make that decision public. At this stage, the official Israeli position is that Jerusalem is closely monitoring developments and will decide on a course of action at the appropriate time. Off the record, Foreign Ministry officials say the issue is an extremely complex one, with possible ramifications not only on a regional, European and global scale, but also for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and the status of Israel's Arab minorities. An Israeli recognition of the unilateral declaration of independence by Kosovo could leave the Jewish state open to a situation whereby the Palestinians do the same thing, if final-status talks do not produce a result. Israel's affirmation of Kosovo's independence, outside the framework of a UN Security Council decision or a General Assembly vote, could lead Israel's grumbling, and touchy, Arab minority, now some 20 percent of the population largely concentrated in the Galilee, to consider a similar step should they feel their national aspirations are not being met and continue to feel like second class citizens in a country whose legitimacy they increasingly reject. So, Israel will wait to see which way the wind blows before deciding what to do. Israeli officials say they understand how the people of Kosovo feel, bravely declaring independence from an oppressive regime and in the face of the Russian powerhouse, and now waiting for the world to recognize them, much like the nation of Jews that gathered around their radio sets in 1947 listening to the broadcast from the UN General Assembly for the world's nations, one by one, to recognize or deny Israel's existence. The feeling of a moral obligation to come to the assistance of a tiny new nation staking its claim in the world is strong among the Jews. Added to this is the Israeli interest of helping to establish a secular, moderate Muslim state in the Balkans that is friendly to Israel and America during these days of Muslim-Western clashes. On the other hand, Israelis truly feel for the Serbs, too. The poor Serbs, Israeli officials say, who ruled Kosovo for 100 years, and who for 700 years have considered Kosovo their emotional, spiritual and national homeland, where many of the first Christian Orthodox churches were founded, really are connected to Kosovo from the heart and from the gut, much like Israelis and Jews worldwide are connected to many areas of the West Bank by their hearts and guts, places they consider to be their spiritual and nationalist base; places like Hebron and Shilo. Should Israel support Kosovo's unilateral independence from Serbia, it would open itself up to the argument that a people can be made to give up, unilaterally and with international backing by unfriendly powers, on the places it holds dear, something most Israeli governments would find hard to swallow. Serbian officials have told their Israeli counterparts that Kosovo is to Serbia what Jerusalem is to Israel. There is a certain logic to that assertion given both areas' historical significance, except that the Kosovars are not demanding Belgrade as their capital, and Israel has said it favors the return of Palestinian refugees to a Palestinian state. Whichever way Israel finally decides, one thing is certain: It won't be an easy decision, and it will have to be based on protecting Israeli interests. Serbian-Israeli relations have been growing stronger for years, with more and more investments by businesses from both countries in both countries. The countries share an important history, with Serbian assistance to Jewish resistance fighters before and during Israel's War of Independence. The two nations are growing closer and friendlier, and this is not something Jerusalem takes lightly. However, if Israel's major friends abroad like the US, Germany, Britain and France decide to recognize Kosovo (outside of a UN vote) then Jerusalem will have a hard time not following suit, thereby jeopardizing its budding relationship with Belgrade, and possibly more seriously, with Moscow, which is likely to back Serbia all the way. Serbia's threats to withdraw from EU admission process should the European Union recognize Kosovo doesn't scare Brussels, but Israel doesn't want to make an enemy out of Belgrade. Israel is hoping the issue comes to a UN General Assembly vote where it could "blend in" with the crowd and make a decision that won't stick out either way, but this is unlikely to happen as Russia has declared it will use its veto in the Security Council and thwart the possibility that the issue will be moved to the General Assembly. Israel, like other nations, will wait, monitor events, and postpone a decision for as long as possible, a stance likely to upset the Kosovars, placate the Serbs and the Russians, and buy Jerusalem enough time to jump on board any horse it thinks is winning, as close as possible to the finish line. Serbia has recalled its ambassador to Washington in protest at US recognition of Kosovo independence and threatened to withdraw other envoys.