Al-Ahram Weekly Online   21 -27 February 2008
Issue No. 885
Opinion
 
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875

If Kosovo, why not Palestine?

It is time for the Ramallah-based Palestinian leadership to challenge the international community on Palestinian independence, writes John Whitbeck*

As expected, Kosovo has issued its unilateral declaration of independence, the United States and most European Union countries, with whom this declaration was coordinated, rushing to extend diplomatic recognition to this "new country". This course of action should strike anyone with an attachment to either international law or common sense as breathtakingly reckless.

The potentially destabilising consequences of this precedent (which the US and the EU insist, bizarrely, should not be viewed as a precedent) have been much discussed with reference to other internationally recognised sovereign states with strong separatist movements practising precarious but effective self-rule, such as Abkhazia, South Ossetia, Transniestria, Ngorno-Karabakh, Bosnia's Republika Srpska, the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus and Iraqi Kurdistan, as well as to discontented minorities elsewhere. One potentially constructive consequence has not yet been discussed.

American and EU impatience to sever a portion of a UN member state (universally recognised, even by them, to constitute a portion of that state's sovereign territory), ostensibly because 90 per cent of those living in that portion support separation, contrasts starkly with the unlimited patience of the US and the EU when it comes to ending the 40-year-long belligerent Israeli occupation of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip (no portion of which any country recognises as Israel's sovereign territory and as to which Israel has only asserted sovereignty over a tiny portion, occupied East Jerusalem). Virtually every legal resident of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip seeks freedom, and has for over 40 years. For doing so, they are punished, sanctioned, besieged, humiliated and, day after endless day, killed by those who claim to stand on the moral high ground.

In American and EU eyes, a Kosovar declaration of independence from Serbian sovereignty should be recognised, even if Serbia does not agree. However, their attitude was radically different when Palestine declared independence from Israeli occupation on 15 November 1988. Then the US and EU countries (which, in their own eyes, constitute the "international community", to the exclusion of most of mankind) were conspicuously absent as over 100 countries recognised the new State of Palestine, and their non-recognition made this declaration of independence "symbolic", unfortunately for most Palestinians as well.

For the US and the EU, Palestinian independence, to be recognised and effective, must be directly negotiated on a wildly unequal bilateral basis between the occupying power and the occupied people with emphasis laid on attaining the final agreement of the occupying power. For the US and the EU, the rights and desires of a long-suffering and brutalised occupied people, as well as international law, are irrelevant. For the same US and the EU, Kosovar Albanians, having enjoyed almost nine years of UN administration and NATO protection, cannot be expected to wait any longer for their freedom, while the Palestinians, having endured over 40 years of Israeli occupation, can wait forever.

With the "Annapolis process" going nowhere, as was clearly the Israeli and American intention from the start, the Kosovo precedent offers the Ramallah-based Palestinian leadership -- accepted as such by the "international community" because it is perceived as serving Israeli and American interests -- a golden opportunity to seize the initiative, reset the agenda and restore its tarnished reputation in the eyes of its own people. If this leadership truly believes, despite all evidence to the contrary, that a decent "two-state solution" is still possible, now is an ideal moment to reaffirm the legal existence (albeit under continuing belligerent occupation) of the State of Palestine, explicitly in the entire 22 per cent of Mandatory Palestine that was not conquered and occupied by the state of Israel until 1967, and to call on all those countries that did not extend diplomatic recognition to the State of Palestine in 1988 -- and particularly the US and the EU states -- to do so now.

The Kosovar Albanian leadership has promised protection for Kosovo's Serb minority, which is now expected to flee in fear. The Palestinian leadership could promise to accord a generous period of time for Israeli colonists living illegally in the State of Palestine, and Israeli occupation forces, to withdraw, as well as to consider an economic union with Israel, open borders and permanent resident status for those illegal colonists willing to live in peace under Palestinian rule.

Of course, to prevent the US and the EU from treating such an initiative as a joke, there would have to be a significant and explicit consequence if they were to do so. The consequence would be the end of the "two-state" illusion. The Palestinian leadership would make clear that if the US and the EU, having just recognised a second Albanian state on the sovereign territory of a UN member state, will not now recognise a Palestinian state on a tiny portion of the occupied Palestinian homeland, it will dissolve the Palestinian Authority (which, legally, should have ceased to exist in 1999, at the end of the five-year "interim period" under the Oslo Accords) and the Palestinian people will thereafter seek justice and freedom through democracy, through the persistent, non-violent pursuit of full rights of citizenship in a single state in all of Israel/Palestine, free of any discrimination based on race and religion and with equal rights for all who reside there.

Palestinian leaderships have tolerated Western hypocrisy and racism and played the role of gullible fools for far too long. It is time to kick over the table, constructively, and to shock the international community into taking notice of the fact that the Palestinian people simply will not tolerate unbearable injustice and abuse any longer.

If not now, when?

* The writer is an international lawyer and author of The World According to Whitbeck .

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