Kosovo has now issued its anticipated unilateral declaration of independence, and the United States and most European Union countries, with which this declaration was coordinated, are rushing to extend diplomatic recognition to this “new country”, a course of action which should strike anyone with an attachment to either international law or common sense as breathtakingly reckless.
The potentially destabilizing consequences of this precedent (which the U.S. and the EU insist, bizarrely, should not be viewed as a precedent) have been much discussed with reference to other unhappy portions of other internationally recognized sovereign states with strong separatist movements practicing 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.
The American and EU impatience to amputate a portion of a UN member state (universally recognized, even by them, to constitute a portion of that state’s sovereign territory), ostensibly because 90% of those living in that portion of the state’s territory support separation, contrasts starkly with the unlimited patience of the U.S. and the EU when it comes to ending the 40-year-long belligerent occupation of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip (no portion of which any country recognizes as Israel’s sovereign territory and as to which Israel has only even 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 recognized even if Serbia does not agree. However, their attitude was radically different when Palestine declared independence from Israeli occupation on November 15, 1988. Then the U.S. and the EU countries (which, in their own eyes, constitute the “international community”, to the exclusion of most of mankind) were conspicuously absent when over 100 countries recognized the new State of Palestine, and their non-recognition made this declaration of independence purely “symbolic” in their own eyes and, unfortunately, in most Palestinian and other eyes as well.
For the U.S. and the EU, any Palestinian independence, to be recognized and legally effective, must still be directly negotiated, on a wildly unequal bilateral basis, between the occupying power and the occupied people — and must be agreed to by the occupying power. For the U.S. and the EU, the rights and desires of a long-suffering and brutalized occupied people, as well as international law, are irrelevant.
For the U.S. 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, to reset the agenda and to 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% of Mandatory Palestine which was not conquered and occupied by the State of Israel until 1967, and to call on all those countries which did not extend diplomatic recognition to the State of Palestine in 1988 — and particularly the U.S. 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 the Israeli colonists living illegally in the State of Palestine and the 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 U.S. 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 U.S. and the EU, having just recognized a second Albanian state on the sovereign territory of a UN member state, will not now recognize one 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 live there, as in any true democracy.
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 that the Palestinian people simply will not tolerate unbearable injustice and abuse any longer.
If not now, when?
JOHN V. WHITBECK, an international lawyer, is author of “The World According to Whitbeck“.