Why Balkan Embassies Should Matter to Israel

Sept. 9 2020

Last week, Serbia and Kosovo agreed to establish normal economic relations—a major step toward bringing an end to the conflicts following the fall of Yugoslavia that caused so much bloodshed in the 1990s. Kosovo, historically a region of Serbia with a predominantly Albanian-speaking and Muslim population, declared independence from Orthodox Christian-dominated Serbia in 2008, but has yet to be recognized by many countries. As a corollary to the U.S.-brokered agreement, Israel will establish diplomatic relations with Kosovo, and both Kosovo and Serbia will establish embassies in Jerusalem. Lahav Harkov comments:

Kosovo offered to open an embassy in Jerusalem in exchange for recognition in 2018, but Israel’s official position was that it did not want to risk its strong relationship with Serbia, although plenty of countries that recognize Kosovo still have good ties with Belgrade. The bigger reason why Israel was wary of ties with Kosovo was its concern over setting a precedent for the Palestinians.

Kosovo unilaterally declared independence, and for Israel to support them doing so could be seen as [setting a precedent for recognition of] a Palestinian state. Officially, the Palestinian Authority does not recognize Kosovo.

What changed on Friday that made Israel give up on this principled position? Call it diplomatic realism. . . . Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu . . . is giving up on a theoretical benefit—not sending the wrong message—for something Israel wants now: two more embassies in Jerusalem, including the first from a Muslim-majority country.

As for the Palestinians, they have, as Harkov notes, already taken steps to be recognized as an independent state by international organizations. What they have not done, however, is what the Kosavars have been doing for well over a decade: building the institutions that make for an actual state.

Read more at Jerusalem Post

More about: Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel diplomacy, Serbia, Yugoslavia


Syria’s Druze Uprising, and What It Means for the Region

When the Arab Spring came to Syria in 2011, the Druze for the most part remained loyal to the regime—which has generally depended on the support of religious minorities such as the Druze and thus afforded them a modicum of protection. But in the past several weeks that has changed, with sustained anti-government protests in the Druze-dominated southwestern province of Suwayda. Ehud Yaari evaluates the implications of this shift:

The disillusionment of the Druze with Bashar al-Assad, their suspicion of militias backed by Iran and Hizballah on the outskirts of their region, and growing economic hardships are fanning the flames of revolt. In Syrian Druze circles, there is now open discussion of “self-rule,” for example replacing government offices and services with local Druze alternative bodies.

Is there a politically acceptable way to assist the Druze and prevent the regime from the violent reoccupation of Jebel al-Druze, [as they call the area in which they live]? The answer is yes. It would require Jordan to open a short humanitarian corridor through the village of al-Anat, the southernmost point of the Druze community, less than three kilometers from the Syrian-Jordanian border.

Setting up a corridor to the Druze would require a broad consensus among Western and Gulf Arab states, which have currently suspended the process of normalization with Assad. . . . The cost of such an operation would not be high compared to the humanitarian corridors currently operating in northern Syria. It could be developed in stages, and perhaps ultimately include, if necessary, providing the Druze with weapons to defend their territory. A quick reminder: during the Islamic State attack on Suwayda province in 2018, the Druze demonstrated an ability to assemble close to 50,000 militia men almost overnight.

Read more at Jerusalem Strategic Tribune

More about: Druze, Iran, Israeli Security, Syrian civil war, U.S. Foreign policy