Guest Column: Is Abbas ignoring Israel and eyeing Kosovo?

The PA leadership is less interested in the accuracy of the comparisons between the Balkan country and a future Palestine and seeks to use it as a political symbol to strengthen its case for unilaterally declared statehood.

test (photo credit: AP)
(photo credit: AP)

While Israel and its Palestinian neighbors awaitUS envoy George Mitchell's return for yet another attempt at restartingnegotiations, there are more indications that Palestinian leaders areless and less interested in negotiations. Several weeks ago,Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas declared that the PAwould not resume negotiations until the international communityunilaterally recognized the 1949 armistice line (the 1967 borders) asthe boundaries of a future Palestinian state. This was in addition toits standing precondition of a full settlement freeze, including inJerusalem. Abbas knows Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu can't agree.

ThePA leadership seems unconcerned. They are even more unimpressed withthe concessions Netanyahu has made. Netanyahu's acceptance of ademilitarized Palestinian state, his enforcement of the mostfar-reaching settlement freeze in Israel's history, his elimination ofscores of roadblocks in the West Bank and the removal of nearly 100Palestinians from the IDF's most wanted list were dismissed out ofhand.

There is a reason. The Palestinians have been looking to theBalkans for inspiration, not Israel. Specifically, Kosovo's February2008 unilateral declaration of statehood and secession from Serbia hascaptured the Palestinian imagination as the model for "Palestine." Inthe past months, both Abbas and Prime Minister Salam Fayyad havereferenced the Kosovo model.

In reality, there is no legal or historical comparison. Leadinginternational jurists, such as Prof. Ruth Lapidot and former Canadianjustice minister Irwin Cotler, have noted that Kosovo and thePalestinian situation are legally and historically different. AlanBaker, former legal adviser to the Foreign Ministry, insists thatPalestinian unilateralism in establishing a state and its borders wouldviolate internationally sanctioned agreements that were signed at Osloand still legally govern Palestinian-Israeli diplomacy pending a finalpeace agreement.

However, the PA leadership seems less interested inthe accuracy of one-to-one comparisons between Kosovo and "Palestine."Rather they use Kosovo as a political symbol to shape internationalperceptions and strengthen their case for a unilaterally declaredstatehood on the '67 lines with eastern Jerusalem as their capital,including the Old City and the Temple Mount. Gaining internationalendorsement of the '67 lines is the goal and it's a zero sum game. Theysee Kosovo as the best option to get there.

The Palestinians believe their own case for unilateralstatehood is even more convincing, especially to a US president whosehas just won a Nobel Peace Prize in the context of a faltering MiddleEast peace process.

INFEBRUARY 2008, shortly after Kosovo's unilateral statehood declaration,which took place during the Annapolis peace process, Yasser Abed Rabbo,senior adviser to Abbas, told Agence France Presse, "We have anotheroption. Kosovo is not better than Palestine. We ask for the backing ofthe United States and the European Union for our independence."


Also inspired by Kosovo, chief Palestiniannegotiator Saeb Erekat tested the waters in late 2009, threateningunilateral declaration of statehood along the 1967 lines. He arguedthat "the EU recognized the state of Kosovo before other officialchannels supported its claim, and the same should be done for thePalestinians."

One of the more unfortunate yet effective Palestinian tacticsdriving the Palestinian Kosovo strategy is the delegitimization ofIsrael which they employ as a lever to criminalize and isolate it inthe international community. Mindful of Serbia's indicted leadersSlobodan Milosevic and Radovan Karadzic who had slaughtered thousands,Palestinian leaders are making Israel the object of the Palestiniananalogy.

PA Justice Minister Ali Khashan's petition to the InternationalCriminal Court in January 2009 charging Israel with genocide, crimesagainst humanity and war crimes in Gaza is a good example. The PAleadership also led the international charge to the UN Human RightsCouncil in Geneva triggering the viciously inaccurate Goldstone Report,while Palestinian groups and their fellow travelers have filed hundredsof petitions in London and other European courts seeking the arrest ofsenior Israeli officials, including Defense Minister Ehud Barak andformer foreign minister Tzipi Livni.

Even Fayyad, whose internationally celebrated and financedtwo-year unilateral statehood building plan served as a cogent pretextfor a unilateral Kosovo type declaration of statehood, has supported apopular "diplomatic intifada" from his Ramallah office, that includesthe widely televised weekly protests against the West Bank securityfence at Bil'in and Ni'lin and more recently at Sheikh Jarrah inJerusalem.

Ironically, the PA had cooperated closely with Israel duringOperation Cast Lead, supplying intelligence on Hamas and putting downits West Bank protests. At the same time, the IDF protects the PAleadership together with PA security forces against an intended Hamastakeover in the West Bank about which Abbas recently revealed to aKuwaiti newspaper that "he had verifiable information," according to areport by Khaled Abu Toameh.

BUT NOW, Abbas, Fayyad and the West Bank Palestinian leadership smell an opportunity.

And while legally unfeasible, there are indications that aKosovo strategy might corner Israel. The Europeans appear more thansympathetic. In July of last year, former EU policy chief Javier Solanacreated a firestorm when he publicly called for a UN unilateralendorsement of a Palestinian state if negotiations failed "after afixed time." While the EU publicly opposed PA threats to declarestatehood in November 2009, a few weeks later, Swedish Foreign MinisterCarl Bildt introduced a resolution to the EU's Council of ForeignMinisters that recognized east Jerusalem as the capital of "Palestine,"thereby implying EU recognition of a unilateral Palestinian statewithout negotiations.

The EU ended up toning down the final draft,calling for negotiations, but it still effectively divided Jerusalemand encouraged the Palestinian unilateral statehood bid. Abbas has alsoreportedly discussed a UN Security Council resolution to impose aPalestinian state along the 1949 armistice lines with UNSecretary-General Ban Ki-moon who has reportedly expressed support.

Whilethe Bush administration had dismissed any comparison between thePalestinian case and Kosovo's 2008 unilateral declaration, and thecurrent administration supports a negotiated solution, there is reasonto believe that President Barack Obama is inclined to back the keyPalestinian demand of a potential unilateral declaration.

Obama's September 2009 speech at the UN General Assemblyprovides context. He echoed the 2002 road map's language of "ending theoccupation that began in 1967." However, he omitted its references toall of the previous diplomatic instruments which had guaranteedIsrael's right to secure and recognized boundaries - defensible bordersin diplomatic shorthand - that have been embedded in Resolutions 242and 338, the 1991 Madrid process and 1993 Oslo agreements and the 2004Bush letter.

Other US administration officials have also omitted mentioning 242, defensible borders and the Bush letter in recent speeches.

Israel has good reason to be concerned. The Palestinianunilateral Kosovo strategy demands new strategic thinking. Israel iscommitted to a negotiated solution but must vigorously rejectPalestinian abrogation of the same principle. Jerusalem would alsoprotect its vital interests in demanding clarification of Fatah'srenewed commitment to armed struggle which was to have been forsworn 17years ago at the exchange of letters between Yasser Arafat and YitzhakRabin.

Israel must underscore its requirement for defensible bordersin the West Bank that are enshrined in UN Security Council Resolution242 and reflected in subsequent Israeli-Palestinian agreements thathave recognized this essential security requirement - particularly inthe Jordan Valley, the 3000-foot protective hilltops overlookingIsrael's major cities and Ben-Gurion Airport, as well as protecting thehigh ground around Jerusalem. This was Rabin's legacy that he laid outin his last Knesset speech in October 1995.

Israelmust also demand that the international community oppose the Kosovostrategy of unilateral imposed statehood and any other attempts toprejudge negotiations or predetermine borders.

This is the only way to avoid the "Balkanization" of ouralready dangerous neighborhood and allow for Israel's vital intereststo be maintained, while attempting to reach stability and perhaps peaceopposite a shrewd, sophisticated and relentless Palestinian leadership.

The writer is a senior foreign policy analyst at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs. This article is based on the Jerusalem Viewpoints that was published at the Institute for Contemporary Affairs at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs.