More on this issue from Nikolas Gvosdev. (His bio reads: “Nikolas K. Gvosdev is the former editor of the National Interest, and a frequent foreign policy commentator in both the print and broadcast media. He is currently on the faculty of the U.S. Naval War College. The views expressed are his own and do not reflect those of the Navy or the U.S. government. His weekly WPR column, The Realist Prism, appears every Friday.”)

“While the United States has insisted for years that the Kosovo case was sui generis — a unique situation that set no precedent for resolving frozen conflicts anywhere else in the world — the Palestinian leadership appears to be ignoring that memo.”

The Realist Prism: The Kosovo Gambit for Palestine? (Oct. 22)

Are the Palestinians preparing their own version of the “Kosovo gambit” through a unilateral declaration of independence in the event that U.S.-sponsored peace talks falter?

While the United States has insisted for years that the Kosovo case was sui generis — a unique situation that set no precedent for resolving frozen conflicts anywhere else in the world — the Palestinian leadership appears to be ignoring that memo. Mustafa Barghouti, secretary-general of the Palestinian National Initiative, last week bluntly stated that it is time to “declare the establishment of an independent Palestinian state on the territories occupied by Israel in 1967, including East Jerusalem, and to demand that the world community recognize it and its borders — as it did in the case of Kosovo.” According to Barghouti, such a unilateral declaration would allow countries to demonstrate support for an independent Palestine and to assist in the establishment of state institutions, again citing Kosovo’s declaration of independence and its recognition by the international community as a model to be replicated.

First, international attitudes toward statehood and recognition have shifted away from a strict Westphalian interpretation, in which a potential state must be in full control of its territory in order to receive recognition…The break-up of Yugoslavia, and especially the secession of Slovenia and Croatia in 1991 and the proclamation of Bosnia in 1992…delinked the recognition of state sovereignty from the need to demonstrate a priori control of territory. So the fact that a Palestinian government, should it proclaim that the West Bank and Gaza are part and parcel of a Palestinian state, does not in fact control every square mile of that territory is not automatically a barrier to recognition.

Second, the Palestinians in 1988 [when the Algiers Declaration proclaimed a Palestinian state] and the Kosovars in 1990 did not have any of the institutions of a state. The PLO was an exile movement and had no formal governing presence in any part of the territories it claimed as part of its state. The Kosovars had an underground, “parallel” government, but day-to-day control was still exercised by Yugoslavia. After the 1999 NATO intervention, however, Kosovo acquired, at least in the territories south of the Ibar river, a functioning governmental apparatus, so that when it declared independence again in 2008, it had the institutions of a state. Likewise, the Palestinian Authority functions today as a quasi-state authority, with ministers, agencies and security forces. So it would be more likely to gain acceptance as an independent government.

Third, the recent ruling of the International Court of Justice on the Kosovo case essentially declared that an aspiring state does not have to seek “permission” to declare its independence. It simply does so, leaving other states to decide whether or not to recognize it. Kosovo today enjoys recognition from some 70 nations, giving it a certain “critical mass.” As a result, any future talks with Serbia will be aimed not at getting Kosovo to give up its independence, but rather at determining the conditions and arrangements under which Belgrade will accept an independent government in Pristina. The question the Palestinians must ask themselves as they make their calculations is how many of the states that recognized the symbolic Algiers Declaration in 1988 will recognize a second Palestinian declaration today.

Some of them are unlikely to. For instance, India today enjoys much closer relations with Israel and has increased concerns about the status of Kashmir, which is the main reason New Delhi has declined to recognize Kosovo. But others, especially those that have since also recognized Kosovo, might re-affirm their previous recognition of “Palestine” as envisioned by the Algiers Declaration, with Turkey being a leading candidate in this group. And if “Palestine” were to gain recognition from dozens of states, it could possibly change the dynamics of the peace process itself.

A critical test will be whether or not Jordan and Saudi Arabia decide to embrace a Palestinian declaration of independence. If Riyadh and Amman believe that the United States cannot guarantee a peace process that delivers a two-state solution, will they decide that this attempt to create a new set of “facts on the ground” represents a more effective alternative? More importantly, would they and other states that recognized Palestine attempt to strengthen the new state’s ability to exercise authority over what it claimed to be its territory? The argument here would be that recognition of an independent Palestine could occur even without final agreement on borders, refugees and the status of Jerusalem — and that Israel would not be able to use the threat of a veto on Palestinian statehood as a way to extract concessions in peace talks.

The United States, of course, would maintain that no Palestinian state can come into existence without a definitive settlement with Israel. Would Europe, however, automatically agree with Washington’s position? French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner’s recent statement in the Palestinian newspaper Al-Ayyam raises doubts. Kouchner argued that the optimal solution is still for Palestinians and Israelis to reach an agreement, but refused to rule out the option of the United Nations Security Council intervening to authorize the proclamation of a Palestinian state. “The international community cannot be satisfied with a prolonged deadlock,” Kouchner explained. “I therefore believe that one cannot rule out in principle the Security Council option.” His statement reflects similar positions taken by European governments prior to Kosovo’s declaration in 2008.

All of this leads Israeli commentator Aluf Benn to conclude that Israel may be at a “turning point”: No longer negotiating from a position of strength in bilateral talks with the Palestinians, Israel might instead be forced to orchestrate “a diplomatic holding action” if the move to proclaim a Palestinian state gathers steam. Of course, the United States could easily veto any U.N. Security Council resolution authorizing the Palestinians to proclaim independence. But that could complicate U.S. efforts to forge coalitions to confront Iran, to stabilize Iraq and to facilitate an exit from Afghanistan, among other things.

This would also be a test of the resilience of American leadership in “post-American” conditions. How many — and which — countries would need to recognize Palestine in order to outweigh continued U.S. support for Israel? One less-than-pleasant scenario that Benn outlines is an end game where “Europe, China and India turn their backs on Israel and erode the last remnants of its legitimacy.”…Washington’s ability to guide and channel the peace process may be coming to an end.

The spectre of the Kosovo precedent being used against Israel was raised again a week later, when Jerusalem Post editor David Horovitz picked up on Gvosdev’s piece:

Editor’s Notes: Unilateralism is no mirage By DAVID HOROVITZ (10/29/2010)

Netanyahu’s right: Palestinians won’t achieve peace with Israel by unilaterally declaring establishment of “Palestine.” But they’re not talking about peace. They’re talking about statehood.

The months go by, and while Israel keeps its head buried in the sand, Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad’s declared summer 2011 deadline for Palestinian statehood draws nearer.

Photogenically picking olives with Fayyad on Tuesday, the UN’s Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process Robert Serry offered his stamp of approval for the purportedly soon-to-be-established “Palestine.”

“All international players are now in agreement that the Palestinians are ready for statehood at any point in the near future,” Serry said to Fayyad. “We are in the home stretch of your agenda to reach that point by August next year, and you have our full support.”

A day earlier, the PA President Mahmoud Abbas had spoken about the possibility of seeking statehood unilaterally, via what he termed a “resort to the United Nations.”

Other PA officials have frequently invoked this option of late, bemoaning Israel’s ostensible torpedoing of peace hopes and looking to the international community for unilateral recognition.

A couple of weeks ago, the French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner made plain that even some countries that consider themselves to be firm friends of Israel might not prove deaf to Palestinian efforts toward unilateral recognition, saying that France “cannot rule out in principle the Security Council option” if the negotiating process is beset by “prolonged deadlock.”

And officials within the US administration, while indicating to their Israeli counterparts that the US would veto any effort by the Palestinians to seek binding UN Security Council backing for the unilaterally declared establishment of “Palestine” within the pre-1967 lines, have also been stressing the limits of their veto power. Look at the case of Kosovo, for instance, they suggest. This is a “nation” that has not been recognized by the Security Council, where permanent member Russia is implacably opposed, but whose “statehood” – declared by its parliament in February 2008 and recognized by some 70 countries, including the US – is nonetheless something of a fait accompli.

I’m going to stop Mr. Horovitz right there for a moment, to draw attention to the significance of this paragraph: Here we have U.S. officials saying to their Israeli counterparts: “LOOK AT THE CASE OF KOSOVO, FOR INSTANCE.” Excuse me? I thought we weren’t supposed to look at Kosovo as an example of anything. And the ones telling us not to look were U.S. officials. What they’re warning the Israeli side about wasn’t supposed to be possible to happen, because no one was supposed to look at Kosovo. So what do they mean “Look at Kosovo”? THAT CAN’T BE A PRECEDENT FOR ANYTHING! They said so!

The Kosovo “precedent” is certainly not lost on the Palestinians. Earlier this month, Palestinian politician Mustafa Barghouti urged that an independent Palestine be declared now “on the territories occupied by Israel in 1967, including east Jerusalem” and that the world community be pressed to “recognize it and its borders, as it did in the case of Kosovo.”

Serene in the face of such ostensible pressures, the Israeli government continues to insist that there is no credible, viable path to statehood for the Palestinians via the unilateral route.

Opening Sunday’s cabinet meeting, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu declared that “We expect the Palestinians to honor their commitment to hold direct negotiations. I think any attempt to bypass them by appealing to international bodies is unrealistic…”

But is it?

THE KOSOVO “precedent” is plainly quite different from the Palestinian context. (Indeed, Israelis who have spent time in Kosovo say that people there often compare their emergence to that of Israel.) [Of course they do. They’re not going to make the more apt comparison to the terrorist Palestinians — are they — if they want Jewish support.] But there are numerous critical parallels and themes that Israel would be extremely foolish to ignore.

“Independent” Kosovo was born out of the fragmentation two decades ago of Yugoslavia, and what proved to be the impossibility of peacefully resolving the conflicting demands of one of the former Yugoslavia’s six constituent republics, Serbia, with those of the Albanian majority in what had been the autonomous area of Kosovo. The unilateral declaration of statehood followed years of violence, international intervention, the designation by the Security Council in 1999 of Kosovo as a UN protectorate, and the terminal failure of a succession of efforts to foster substantive negotiations between Kosovo’s Albanian leadership and Belgrade. [Not a failure; a sabotage, as has been extensively documented.]

A fragmenting federation, war, NATO involvement on the ground and the absence of anything remotely close to an agreed framework for resolving the crisis – in all these aspects Kosovo differs utterly from the Palestinian-Israeli conflict arena. Just to be on the safe side, furthermore, the US made explicit, when recognizing Kosovo, that this process represented no legal precedent whatsoever.

(Of course, this time the EU can say the same about the Palestinian process, to dissuade statehood-seekers throughout Europe and the rest of the globe from following suit. And on and on it’ll go.)

Where the potent similarities begin, however, is that in Kosovo, as with the Palestinians, the international community was galvanized by a group that sought independence from another party whose rule it did not accept; and where that group was impatient and felt that it had sufficient strength to advance its cause.

Kosovo’s road to independence featured an earlier declaration of a separate republic, in 1992, which went nowhere because, as Nikolas Gvosdev pointed out in an article in World Politics Review a few days ago, it had “no formal governing presence in any part of the territories it claimed as its state” and no real institutions of state. But by 2008, Kosovo did have “a functional governmental apparatus” in at least part of the territory it claimed, and it has subsequently gained a “certain critical mass” of international recognition.

“As a result,” Gvosdev notes with what ought to be dramatic resonance for Israeli ears, “any future talks with Serbia will be aimed not at getting Kosovo to give up its independence, but rather at determining the conditions and arrangements under which Belgrade will accept an independent government in Pristina.”

Try re-reading that sentence with certain substitutions after a unilateral assertion of Palestinian statehood: Any future talks with Israel will be aimed not at getting Palestine to give up its independence, but rather at determining the conditions and arrangements under which Jerusalem will accept an independent government in east Jerusalem.

The echoes from Kosovo of that shift to international acceptance over the past couple of decades drastically undermine official Israel’s insistently sanguine response to the Palestinians’ unilateralist threats. Fayyad’s entire state-building exercise has been designed to demonstrate, Kosovo-style, the attainment of a “formal governing presence” in at least part of the territories being claimed and the establishment of “a functional governmental apparatus.”

And much of the international community has long-since been won over. So Israel’s blithe, dismissive reminder that the Palestinians have little to show from their last attempt at the unilateralist route – the 1988 declaration of statehood that won recognition from some 90 nations – is simply outdated. We are not in 1988 anymore.

In conversation with some in Israeli officialdom this week, I ventured the suggestion that the resort to unilateralism, at the very least, would surely ratchet up the pressure on Israel. The international community is less sympathetic to Israel, and more impressed by the Palestinian leadership’s credentials and ostensible capacity to maintain stability, than it was when Yasser Arafat tried the unilateral declaration route 22 years ago, I noted. And so, if “Palestine” is being stymied because of the failure to negotiate core issues like agreed borders with Israel, then a Palestinian unilateralist effort would surely provoke intensified calls on Israel to negotiate those borders, and other core issues, in a spirit of greater compromise.

The frustrated response was that Israel is ready to negotiate. In rather anguished terms, it was noted that the Palestinians claim they need other solutions because the talks are going nowhere, but that the talks are only going nowhere because the Palestinians are refusing to negotiate.

Note: This is a direct parallel to the Kosovo situation, which Mr. Horovitz above noted as a distinction. Because he is unaware that the Serbian side was always ready to negotiate and came with lists of various compromises for a negotiated solution — while the Albanian delegation looked at their watches, knowing America had their back for nothing less than independence as the result of any “negotiations,” as the U.S. stated before every round of “negotiations.”

…Many in the Israeli diplomatic hierarchy, moreover, understand that the world has changed in the past couple of decades – and specifically that the US no longer calls the shots globally in the way that it once could. American economic dominance, American military dominance and American diplomatic dominance have receded. There are more global power centers. The US itself, recognizing these changes, works more readily with international forums.

For Israel, for whom the alliance with the US remains paramount, these shifts have nonetheless required a shift in diplomacy, a diversified investment of effort and energy.

In terms of the conflict with the Palestinians, these shifts have also required a gradual internalization that the Middle East peace Quartet – that constellation of would-be mediators comprising the US, UN, EU and Russia – potentially carries real weight, and is no longer just a diplomatic construct designed to give the international community a superficial sense of involvement, while only the US really matters.

This changing climate again renders some of the public Israeli comments on unilateralism – the blasé dismissal of a unilateral Palestine as a “mirage” and a “pipe dream” – unconscionably complacent. And Netanyahu’s own assertion on Sunday that attempts at unilateralism “will not give any impetus to a genuine diplomatic process” completely misses the point.

Note: Partly accounting for America’s diminished international status is its machinations and gangsterism on behalf of a narco-terrorist mafia spawn in Europe. Europeans understand the potty America made there even if Americans don’t. And now, the U.S. has used up all of its political capital in creating the Kosovo precedent for Israel, leaving American influence too weak to help Israel counteract it.

…OTHER ISRAELI arguments against unilateralism also seem unlikely to give the Palestinians much pause. It is suggested that a unilateral declaration of statehood, though endorsed by long sympathetic nations, might be strongly resented by other, fairer-minded countries that oppose the abandonment of the diplomatic process. But one wonders how many such nations there might turn out to be, and how grave a concern that would be for the Palestinians, given the international hostility to Israel right now, and Israel’s perceived responsibility for the failure of the direct talks to date.

(More parallels: Recall the international hostility to Serbia and the blame consistently placed on Serbian shoulders for any lack of progress or movement.)

…It is argued that a resort to unilateralism would breach the Oslo Accords and that various signatories and witnesses to these and other interim agreements, including the US, EU, Egypt and Jordan, might resent the breach and withhold recognition. They might. They might not. A concern for the Palestinians? Possibly. But enough to deter them? Unlikely.

(An additional parallel: Everything the international community has done since signing UN Resolution 1244, has breached UN Res. 1244. Aside from the Czech Republic, Romania — and a few dazed UN bureaucrats at this meeting — balking about it once in a while — no one cares. In fact, if an international official dares try to even invoke 1244, an Albanian newspaper will warn him that this is a “provocation,” and KLA “veterans” will threaten war. )

…And, finally, it is noted that a unilateral declaration of statehood – with many of “Palestine’s” key parameters and fundamental aspects still unresolved – is no substitute for the benefits of finding a binding, detailed, stable agreement with an enemy turned full peace partner. As Netanyahu said on Sunday, “peace will only be achieved through direct negotiations.”

That argument, of course, is undeniable…if your goal is peace. The thing is, however, that the Palestinians are talking about something else. About statehood. About a process that would give international weight to their demands no matter what the immediate practical implications, and no matter how many problems – all the core issues, plus the question of the fate of Gaza – remain unresolved. International support for statehood, without the necessity to come to terms with Israel, to legitimize Israel. […]

And that, of course, is what the issue was for Kosovo: not “peace” with Serbia and never “reconciliation,” seeing as how the terrorism never stopped. Nor do the Albanians running the show view Serbia proper as legitimate in its borders today, given that they’re also going after southern Serbia’s Presevo Valley, Medvedja and Bujanovac, for which a KLA-affiliated army is active (UCPMB). Albanians, together with Bosnian Muslims, are also in the midst of securing the Wahhabi-infiltrated Sandzak/Sanjak region that runs from Montenegro to southern Serbia and is a critical element of Islam’s “Green Corridor” into Europe.