By: Gerstenfeld, Dr. Manfred
Does Kosovo’s declaration of independence have any specific significance for Israel? The resulting call for a unilateral declaration of Palestinian statehood by Mahmoud Abbas’s aide Yasser Abed-Rabbo was so quickly disavowed by his boss, that Israel is well advised to focus its investigations on other consequences.
Kosovo’s independence further destabilizes the Balkan and creates more confusion than clarity. While no answer about the consequences of this step for Israel is yet possible a useful first approach to analyze its relevance is thus to ask first who gains and who loses from it.
The main beneficiary is Albania. Kosovo’s independence means an enlargement of its sphere of influence, possibly to be enhanced as well in other countries. The developments in Kosovo may cause unrest in the Western part of Macedonia – the region round Tetovo – as well as in South Eastern Montenegro, both inhabited almost entirely by ethnic Albanians.
Turkey is another likely winner, expanding its influence further into the Balkans. This is far more relevant than the possible impact of Kosovo’s new statehood on the Turkish Kurds aspirations. The international law position of Turkish North Cyprus may even strengthen somewhat.
Another beneficiary is the Muslim world, which obtains yet another UN member. European Muslims gain because, if Kosovo ultimately joins the EU, it will give them the first Muslim state voice there, or otherwise strengthen those then already existing. The entry of Muslim fundamentalism, supported by Iranian and Arab money, can now be facilitated into Kosovo as it is so poor. Visitors can see signs of a similar situation already in various Bosnian cities.
Some major losers can be identified easily as well. Serbia is the most obvious. Russia, Serbia’s patron, is another. Greece, an Orthodox country and Serbian ally cannot be happy with the increased likelihood of a Greater Albania and in the meantime yet another Muslim state on the Balkans. Whether the US and the EU will gain or lose more from Kosovo’s independence in the long run remains largely to be seen. French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner has said that Kosovo’s declaration was “a great success for Europe, a great success for the Kosovars and certainly not a defeat for the Serbs,” There is a reasonable chance that, in the not too distant future, this statement may join a long list of aberrant observations of European foreign ministers on the Balkan.
For Israel the most immediate question is whether to recognize Kosovo.
Unless US pressure is irresistible, there is very little to be gained from this, until an overwhelming number of other states do so. Ivan Ceresnjes, former vice chairman of the Yugoslav Jewish Community, says that Israel should not spoil its growing economic relations with Serbia and that a hasty Israeli move may even have negative effects on the small Jewish community there.
Serbs had a rather positive attitude to the Jews in the Second World War. In Kosovo, on the other hand, a local Muslim SS Division participated in the murder of about half of the Jewish population (there were about 560 Jews in 1941). The Mufti of Jerusalem Haj Amin El Husseini played a role in the creation of the SS unit. At the same time other Kosovar Albanians helped the remaining Jews to reach safety in neighboring Albania where all of them survived under the protection of the local population.
In a confused situation like the one concerning Kosovo as time passes, new incidents emerge all the time which could be used by both sides in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. The possibility of Serbia cutting off electricity supplies to Kosovo could have an influence on the perception of Israel doing the same to Gaza.
If Kosovo, as is probable, turns out to be yet another failed state, it would also show that like in Bosnia Western interference has further messed up a problematic ethnic reality. This would strengthen the Israeli position that the West should not try to impose any solution in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Ethnic cleansing in Kosovo would underline this even more.
If foreign Islamist infiltration in Kosovo becomes visible Israel will have an even better case to explain that the same is more likely in a second Palestinian state to be established alongside Jordan.
If Kosovo is probable to be a failed state, Palestine is likely to be worse, a terrorist one. The main conclusion for Israel of the lack of clarity about Kosovo’s future however is that one has to follow the situation closely as in the expected confusion Israel’s enemies will consistently seek to find arguments they can use to their favor in the Middle Eastern conflict.