The case for Israel’s recognition of Kosovo

This year, Kosovo celebrated the 11th year of its independence from Serbia – following the unilateral declaration of 2008.

A MAN holds a Kosovo flag (photo credit: REUTERS)
A MAN holds a Kosovo flag
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Last September, a statement by Kosovo’s President Hashim Thaci that he would open the embassy in Jerusalem if Israel were to recognize Kosovo as a sovereign state was widely circulated by the Israeli media. President Thaci’s declaration was just one of many overtures from Kosovar officials to Israel to move beyond its current hesitation and to acknowledge the youngest state in the Balkans. Despite being a somehow populist plea, the underlying suggestion that Israel would gain a friend by recognizing Kosovo should invite for reflection.
This year, Kosovo celebrated the 11th year of its independence from Serbia – following the unilateral declaration of 2008. Kosovo – whose population is 90% ethnic Albanian, has been recognized by more than 110 countries – including the United States, United Kingdom, France, Germany and most of the Western countries. However, Serbia, supported by Russia, refuses to recognize Kosovo and has actively tried to block it from joining international organizations such as the United Nations.
Israel is in the group of countries that still do not consider Kosovo an independent country. They do not have official relations. Israel’s reluctance to recognize Kosovo has been partly motivated by fears that Kosovo’s unilateral declaration of independence could be used as a precedent in regard to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. However, there are no basis for such fears.
Kosovo’s independence is grounded in the aspiration for self-determination of its population following the ethnic cleansing campaign that Serbia waged against this former autonomous region – ethnic cleansing and that was stopped after international intervention. The UN-led talks between 1999 and 2008 pushing for a mediated final solution to the conflict between Kosovo and Serbia failed because of Serbian rejection. There can be no comparison in this case with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, where the intractability can be largely attributed to the rejection of the Palestinian leadership to compromise on multiple occasions.
Moreover, Kosovo’s declaration of independence has been upheld by the International Court of Justice (ICJ). In its 2010 Advisory Opinion requested by the UN General Assembly, the ICJ noted that Kosovo’s declaration of independence did not break any international law. The sui generis case of Kosovo has been argued time and time again.
However, the most irrefutable argument against potential analogies between the Kosovo-Serbia dispute and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is the Palestinian Authority’s rejection of Kosovo’s independence and explicit support for Serbia. This position buries by itself all possible claims that Kosovo can be used as a precedent for the Palestinian case.
THE OTHER major factor influencing Israeli officials’ consideration on Kosovo has been the potential blowback that this recognition would cause to the relationship between the State of Israel and Serbia. But Serbian-Israeli relations have had their shaky moments. On multiple occasions, Serbia has sided with the Palestinians and their allies at the UN and its agencies. Last year, Serbia strongly criticized Israel for participating in a ceremony in Croatia.
But the relationship between the two countries has shown to be durable and to transcend them. Israeli recognition of Kosovo would arguably have the very same outcome on the Israeli-Serbian relations. After all, the majority of the Western democratic countries recognize and actively support Kosovo’s independence and Serbia continues to have friendly relations with them.
Lastly, the recognition of Kosovo would constitute an added friend for Israel. Besides the declarations of their officials, Albanians generally share a deep sympathy for the Jewish community and the Jewish state, which is manifested also in the excellent relations between Albania and the State of Israel. This relationship between Albanians and the Jews was forged in the tragedy of the Holocaust, when Albanians in Albania and in Kosovo refused to surrender the members of the local Jewish communities to fascist Italy and Nazi Germany – while also helped many Jewish refugees fleeing from Central and Southern Europe by providing them with food and shelter. And this relationship was reinforced in 1999 when, during the ethnic cleansing perpetrated in Kosovo by Serbia, Israel welcomed Albanian refugees.
This week, on June 11, Kosovo celebrated the capitulation of Serbia and its withdrawal from Kosovo. That capitulation made it possible for the one million refugees that fled Kosovo during the war, including the ones that temporarily found safe haven in Israel, to return back home. But at the same time, it was the defining moment that put the wheels of history in motion and led to the new reality of Kosovo’s irreversible independence. If there is something that even his critics always admit, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has led Israel through a realistic and pragmatic approach towards enlarging the list of friends of Israel in the global arena. By recognizing Kosovo now, Israel would not only do justice to reality, but would also add another name to that list.
The writer is an expert on Balkan and Middle Eastern affairs.