"The time has come for you to get used to reality," said German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle during a recent visit to Serbia. Westerwelle is asking the Serbs to come to terms with the fact that Kosovo is today an independent state. It has been two years since Kosovo severed itself from Belgrade and declared independence. Sixty-nine states have recognized it; the United States heads this list, which includes most European Union states.
The International Court of Justice at the Hague stunned the world last July when it rejected Serbia's appeal and tendered de facto recognition to Kosovo's independence. Though this independence was declared unilaterally, and without a vote at the United Nations Security Council, it does not represent a violation of international law, ruled The Hague court.
Washington and Brussels welcomed this decision, and several states announced they would recognize the independence of the new state. Even Serbia started to internalize the defeat. For the first time since Kosovo's declaration of independence, Serbia is slated to open direct talks with Kosovo in accord with the UN General Assembly resolution that was accepted unanimously last week. This is the beginning of the end of one of Europe's most complicated problems in the new era, commentators opined. Israel, it appears, follows a different reality. Amazing as it might sound, there are those who believe that on this issue, at least, Russia, Belgrade's long-standing patron, has more influence on Jerusalem than the United States and Europe. "Israel will not be among the first states to recognize Kosovo's independence," it declared in February 2008. Two years passed, and Israel's position solidified. "We have no intention of solving the world's problems," officials say in Jerusalem. They add: "We will fall into line with the international community the moment recognition of Kosovo's independence passes the minimal threshold." What exactly constitutes that threshold? Eighty states? One hundred? More? "It remains unclear," admit officials of a state that has chosen to keep a distance from the circle of enlightened states, which recognized the oppressed Kosovo residents who have endured massacre, rape and ethnic cleansing. The formulas coined by Israel's policy actually conceal genuine apprehensions. Yet these worries have been allayed, one after another, during the past two years. For instance, anxieties about a descent toward local struggles and bloody wars in the Balkans and beyond have dissolved. The Basque underground's recent declaration clarifying that it does not view armed struggle as a means of attaining its goals is just one example refuting the snowball thesis.
Other dark prophecies - for instance, that Kosovo leaders will establish a "Greater Albania," that they will fall under the influence of states like Iran and Saudi Arabia, that Kosovo will turn into a fulcrum for the spread of Islamic terror and that recognition of the new state will foster anti-Semitism in Europe - proved to be false forecasts.
In Israel, some believe that the international community's conduct is liable to precipitate world support for the country's Arab citizens, in the event (for instance ) Arabs in the Galilee try to sever themselves from the state. There is, however, no similarity between Kosovo's demographic/geographic reality, in which Albanians constitute a 90 percent majority, and that of the Galilee, which has a mixed population. No significant international element would recognize separatist claims made by Israeli Arabs. In any event, Western states declare that recognition of Kosovo's independence is a distinctive, exceptional case.
Israel thus remains without any sound excuses. Perhaps, then, the keys to its policy are to be found in the hands of its foreign minister. On a visit to Belgrade in October 2009, Avigdor Lieberman declared that talks should be renewed about the future of Kosovo. The lips were Lieberman's, but could the voice have been that of the Kremlin?
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