Kosovo is not the right model for Palestinians

Although it declared independence in 2008, the Balkan country can never rule out a new war in the absence of a permanent peace agreement with Serbia.

kosovo irish soldier 311 (photo credit: Bloomberg)
kosovo irish soldier 311
(photo credit: Bloomberg)
Not many people would look toward Pristina as the stuff of dreams. This Balkan city has come a long way since I last came here a decade ago, when the ruined place still smoldered after a vicious war. Today, Pristina’s bustling cafes and restaurants and the occasional park have their charm, but charming is not the first word that comes to mind when you think of long-suffering Kosovo. And yet, Kosovo, the breakaway province of Serbia, has become something of an inspiration in another troubled part of the world: the Middle East.
As negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians ran aground in recent months, some suggested the “Kosovo model” for Palestinian independence. Instead of negotiations aimed at working out the details of a two-state solution, some prominent Palestinians argued, Palestinians should declare an independent state and seek international recognition.
ON THE surface, the idea sounds appealing. In reality, the differences between the two situations make Kosovo a poor example for Palestinians to follow. In fact, the appeal of a shortcut to statehood may itself discourage serious negotiations. Kosovo dreams may already be derailing a negotiated solution.
When Kosovo declared independence in 2008, Yasser Abed Rabbo, a leading Palestinian politician, said he found the Kosovar path appealing. The current Palestinian Authority prime minister has hinted at plans to declare independence next year regardless of the success of talks with Israel, which could soon come back to life.
Proclaiming independence with a stirring speech, a breathtaking fireworks display and a flurry of flag waving and patriotic song sounds much more exciting than sitting down with the other side and hammering out difficult compromises over complicated issues.
Already the European Union and the United States have rejected the idea of a unilateral declaration – for good reasons.
When Kosovo announced its independence from Serbia, the Serbs had categorically rejected a negotiated separation. In fact, Serbia still says it will never accept an independent Kosovo. By contrast, a succession of Israeli governments – and the majority of the Israeli people – have already accepted the idea of creating a Palestinian state. To be sure, negotiating the details is no easy matter. But the fact is that Israel has a track record of making major concessions for peace. In a peace deal with Egypt, for example, it withdrew from the Sinai Peninsula, a territory larger than all of Israel today.
Unlike Palestinians, Kosovars and their leaders never expressed a wish or intention to destroy all of Serbia. They never challenged Serbia’s right to exist, as Palestinians have about Israel. In fact, Kosovo’s new constitution affirms the nascent country has no designs on any more territory. Palestinians, even today, stand deeply divided in their aims. The charter of the radical Hamas, which rules Gaza, still calls for Israel’s destruction.
THE DIFFERENCES between Kosovars and Palestinians are, in fact, so strong that many in Kosovo have identified more with Israelis than with Palestinians. About 90 percent of Kosovars are ethnic Albanians – secular Muslims – demographically overwhelmed in a region where they find themselves surrounded by tens of millions of ethnic Slavs. It’s a situation some Kosovars say resembles that of Israel, surrounded by hundreds millions of often-hostile Arabs.
If – dare we say when – Israelis and Palestinians reach a negotiated peace, the two can move forward and cooperate as neighbors. The conflict then has a chance of retiring to the history books.
Kosovo shows the other path. Thousands of foreign troops remaindeployed here, guarding it ever since NATO moved to push out the Serbforces more than a decade ago. Most countries have not recognizedKosovo’s independence. The economy relies on international assistance,partly because without a peace agreement with Serbia, the futureremains unclear. Without agreement, a new war is never out of thequestion. Foreign investors recoil from such uncertainty.
The best road to a future of peace and prosperity for Israelis andPalestinians remains a negotiated solution, one that both sides canembrace and accept. The path is less dramatic, more demanding, moredifficult. In the end, however, there is no better way to secure apeace that will have a chance of surviving the challenges of theturbulent Middle East.
No matter how appealing Pristina’s new modern cafes look today, anyonewho thinks the Middle East should travel the road of the war-scarredBalkans is choosing a path that cannot lead to permanent peace.
The writer comments on global affairs for The Miami Herald /MCT