Israel and Kosovo (Extract)

Veteran Mossad official and diplomat David Kimche says that despite Israelis' sympathy for both the Kosovars and the Serbs, Israel must act according to realpolitik On February 17, 2008, subsequent to the failure of U.N.-brokered negotiations, Kosovo, a province of Serbia that has been administered by the United Nations and NATO since 1999, declared independence from Serbia. The U.N. and NATO assumed responsibility for Kosovo after NATO forces bombed Serbia in order to stop its genocidal onslaught against the ethnic Albanian separatists. Ninety percent of Kosovo's population of two million are ethnic Albanian Muslims. Kosovo is the sixth state to split off from the former Yugoslavia, following Slovenia, Macedonia, Croatia, Bosnia-Herzgovina, and Montenegro. Kosovo's declaration of independence was coordinated with the U.S. and the EU, who recognized the nascent state almost immediately. Serbia and Russia oppose independence for Kosovo and, in response, Russia has threatened to assert its own claims to areas in Georgia populated primarily by Russian ethnic minorities. Israel has not followed the American lead and has yet to recognize Kosovo's independence; foreign ministry officials have told The Report that Israel will be "neither the first nor the last" country to recognize Kosovo. Israel must weigh its decision regarding recognition of Kosovo's independence very carefully, cautions David Kimche. Kimche, 80, was director general of the Foreign Ministry until 1987. He is currently president of the Israeli Council for Foreign Relations. The Jerusalem Report: Should Israel recognize the newly-declared independent State of Kosovo? David Kimche: Not yet. Israel should put that decision on hold, to make sure that agreements to involve the Serbs are in place and that other international agreements are honored. There is an inherent danger in a declaration of independence that is divorced of any international agreement and that divorces a part of a country from the rest of a sovereign state. Such as step flies in the face of international law, such as U.N. Security Council 1244, which recognizes Serbian sovereignty over Kosovo. Furthermore, we have always been friendly with the Serbs. We have empathy with them, because we are both peoples who suffered during World War II; the Serbs, too, were slaughtered by the Germans and the Nazis. Don't Israelis also feel empathy for the Kosovars' quest for self-determination and independence? Yes, of course we feel empathy for the Kosovars, who suffered at the hands of the Serbs. The truth is that terrible things have been going on in that part of the world for a very long time. But I am speaking in terms of international law and politics. Are you concerned that Kosovo's unilateral declaration of independence could serve as a precedent for other such declarations, especially by the Palestinians. The declaration of independence could, in fact, set precedents that would not be good for Israel. I am not concerned about the declaration of a Palestinian state - Israel needs a Palestinian state as much as the Palestinians do. No, I am much more concerned that ignoring international law and convention could have dangerous results throughout the world. Given that some 90% of Kosovo's population of 2 million is ethnic Albanian, are you concerned that Kosovo would join with Albania to create a "greater Albanian" Islamic state in the heart of Europe? I don't believe that the Kosovars want to become part of Albania, and, in any event, Israel has positive ties and increasing economic activity with Albania. The Kosovars are Muslim, but they are not religious and they are not fanatic, so I don't think we have anything to worry about in that regard. Of course, countries such as Saudi Arabia and Iran will be attempting to incite fanatics in Kosovo, as they have all over the world - but that doesn't mean that they will succeed. It is dangerous and simplistic to assume that every Muslim state is a threat. Turkey, for example, is a Muslim state, and Israel has excellent relationships with Turkey. We have similarly positive relationships with some of the Muslim states in Africa.