Palestine: Kosovo of the Middle East

MOSCOW. (RIA Novosti political analyst Dmitry Kosyrev) – Victory has a thousand fathers, but defeat is an orphan. It was not one, but hundreds of observers who hastened to declare the November international conference in Annapolis America’s success that allegedly gave a fresh start to the Palestinian-Israeli peace process.

Now that the process has hiccupped, no one seems eager to take the blame.

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But, I repeat, it is only a hiccup: Israeli and Palestinian diplomats have quarreled during a working group meeting. One may expect it to be defused by another meeting between the two prime ministers, Mahmoud Abbas and Ehud Olmert; they meet for negotiations roughly once every two weeks. But, as always, the nuts and bolts of these talks are discussed in meetings at the working level. And these meetings make it clear that Annapolis has not solved any substantial issues.

The main issue is land. The Palestinian delegation demanded a stop to building settlements in the occupied territories. The Israelis countered by reminding the Palestinians of their commitment to neutralize the radical groups on the West Bank and in the Gaza Strip. But that is not a very credible response because building houses in the occupied territories is just as real a problem as radicals and terrorists.

It was after Annapolis, early this month, that Israel announced it was building houses in East Jerusalem. Such plans have also been unveiled for the Jewish settlement of Maale Adumim and so on. All this is being done within the existing settlements since Israel has promised not to take any new Palestinian territories. But in general one of the issues in the Middle East peace process is the Jewish development of the territories which, based on the results of the talks, theoretically may not belong to them. In other words, ahead of the negotiations, Israel is stepping up the activities that Palestine wants it to stop.

Or take the question of Jerusalem where new developments are planned. It is Israel’s capital, but the negotiating process implies a joint negotiated solution of the city’s status. For the time being, in terms of international law, the eastern quarters of Jerusalem are occupied territories. The Israelis say they are ready to discuss the city’s status with the Palestinians, but what is the point of talking if new Jewish homes are already being built there?

The settlements are only one item in the overall peace process.

For “the father of the Annapolis victory,” George Bush, the problem now is that he is scheduled to go to the Middle East in January. Even if he manages to wriggle out of that trip, he will still have to come to grips with concrete issues, for example, to say what he thinks about the building of Israeli settlements on Palestinian lands in parallel with the talks. America’s support for Israel is the Achilles heel of all its policy in the greater Middle East and further afield, for example, right up to Muslim Indonesia. These problems will have to be grappled with.

A land that has for centuries been inhabited by people of one creed (or, to put it in other words, of one ethnic identity) and which as a result of the use of force is now inhabited by a different people is not only a problem of Palestine and Israel. The same is true of Kosovo. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and other Russian diplomats have repeatedly pointed out: if the world has been wrestling with the Palestinian problem for half a century and will continue to do so, why such a hurry in the case of Kosovo?

And indeed, the “settlement activities” of the Albanians who infiltrated into Kosovo are very similar to what the Israelis have been up to all this time: to create settlements taking advantage of the weakness of their opponents and then to present the other side with an accomplished fact during the course of negotiations, hoping to wrest at least partial concessions.

What will happen to Europe if it tries to settle a similar problem between the Serbs and the Kosovars after both are admitted to the European Union as “independent states”? It may or may not pan out because Kosovo’s independence would not be legally complete without a formal recognition by the UN. That would give the Serbs reason to seek redress for half a century or for as long as they feel like it. It is unclear who will play the role of the U.S., which, let us face it, is disliked in the Muslim world because of Israel. America’s other missteps (i.e. wars) look in many ways as a derivative of the starting point of its Middle East policy.

The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s and do not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.