Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Kosovo, Georgia, Power Politics and Israel


The world is purposefully divided into nation-states. The powerful countries of the world long ago figured out that trade works better than colonialism.

The idea behind the nation-state system is that each State takes care of business within its own boundaries and doesn’t interfere with whatever goes on in the territory of all other states. Of course, this doesn’t always happen. There are international laws to consider, IGOs (such as the World Bank), NGOs, foreign economic pressures, and so on.

But the territorial status quo is protected as best it can in the halls of power. All ethnic-territorial disputes are attempted to be resolved within the boundaries of each State, with no spill over. Hence, the lunacy of trying to impose a two-state solution within the borders of Israel and the territories, rather than involving the territory of Lebanon, Egypt, Syria, Jordan or Saudi Arabia in solving this geographical puzzle.

But this year, there has been a major crack in the idea of the territorial integrity of smaller states.

The first crack was the U.S. approved Kosovo declaration of independence. In February, Russian President Vladimir Putin dismissed claims that Kosovo was a "special case" as the United States maintains.

Putin argued that Kosovo was in the same category as the separatist conflicts in parts of the former Soviet Union, such as Abkhazia, South Ossetia and Trans-Dniester.

He said Russia, a traditional ally of Serbia, has "a ready-made plan and we know what we are going to do".

Well, in the past two weeks we learned what Putin and the Russians decided to do. They couldn’t military prevent the United States from changing the “world order” balance of power in Kosovo. So the Russians changed the “world order” balance of power in Georgia.

Officials in Israel decided that it was in Israel’s interest not to speak out about these border changes. They neither embraced nor denounced the new status quo in Kosovo or Georgia.

But the precarious situation in Kosovo and the Georgian break away provinces “complicates” matters for the Israeli advocates of the two-state solution. These advocates have always refuses to acknowledge the obvious—the land mass of Israel and the territories is too small to successfully house the sole Jewish State and another Arab state. These advocates have also refused to acknowledge that the solutions embraced by the international community in the first half of the 20th century—separating potentially antagonistic populations—though imperfect, is better than the alternative of clashing peoples.

Separation, though currently an out of favor solution, is worthy of public advocacy. Peacemakers and Noble Prize winners once championed it. In the first half of the 20th century, populations were separated in Greece and Turkey, and German ethnics were moved to Germany. But no one moved people in the area that was once Yugoslavia.

Where populations were separated, there has been peace. And where they weren’t separated, there has been trouble.

Now because Russia and the United States are both permanent members of the UN Security Council with veto power, that means that the UN will never recognize either Kosovo or the break away Georgian provinces. Kosovo and the breakaway provinces of Georgia will act as independently as they can, guarded by their respective protectors.

The U.S.-Russian crisis presents a global problem, as ethnic minorities worldwide take heart from the Kosovar and Georgian precedents.

The U.S. had hoped to put the Kosovo genie back in the “special case” bottle by pressuring Russia economically to get out of Georgia. But NATO allies won’t make a move against Russia because they are afraid of losing their oil supply from Russia, not to mention being afraid of Russia’s military power.

Serbian President Boris Tadic is, of course, livid about Kosovo’s declared independence. He said, "Imagine you were in my place— the president of a country, which has been deprived of a territory against its will. How would you feel and how would you respond? I'm asking this question of you because if you cast a blind eye to this illegal act, who guarantees to you that parts of your countries will not declare independence in the same way?"

How does this effect Israel?

The Kosovar and Georgian situations, set precedents for a similar declaration of independence by Palestinian Arabs should final-status negotiations drag on without tangible results.

Also, Israel's Arab minority might one day use such a precedent to secede from Israeli areas heavily populated by Arabs, such as the Western Galilee.

Further, should Arab countries that surround Israel decide that they are strong enough to attack Israel, even long after the implementation of a two-state solution, the pretext of protecting Israel’s ethnic minority Arabs would readily be available to the invaders.

Protecting ethnic minorities is the pretext Russians used in Georgia, and that’s the pretext Germany used to invade Poland in World War II.

In the meantime, the odd-on favorite to become the next Prime Minister, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, repeats that in a peace deal with the Palestinians, Israel would need to cede parts of the country.

Like all advocates of the two-state solution, she refuses to acknowledge that the geography of Israel and the territories combined is too small to successfully house the only Jewish State and another Arab state. And she does not understand that solution embraced by the international community in the first half of the 20th century—separating antagonistic populations—though imperfect, is ultimately more moral that than the immorality that will surely follow if Israel is permanently made too small to ever achieve self-sufficiency, and Palestinian Arabs are granted the creation of a 22nd, non-viable Arab State, rather than having their individual needs met in a humanitarian way.

There is plenty of room in the Middle-East for everyone who now lives in the Middle-East. Israel and the territories combined comprise only two-tenths of one percent of the region. It is not the only land available in which people can live.

Sadly, Foreign Minister Livni’s negotiating mindset is made clear by her words: "If we don't [cede territory], we will be forced to give up aspects of our ultimate goal: to establish Israel as a Jewish, democratic and secure state.”

This is flat out wrong. And for Israel, Livni's public statements are counter-productive. With cracks in the nation-state system, and events unfolding the way they are between the United States and Russia, Israel is playing its international diplomatic hand as if it has no cards to play. But Israel has cards. Until alternative fuels replace oil, the United States needs its only dependable ally in the Middle-East now more than ever. This allows Israel more room to maneuver, not less.

Israeli politicians should ask themselves, “after the two-state solution, then what?” The answer is, there will not be peace. There will still be a pretext for the next attack because of the millions of Arabs living in Israel and the new schism between Russia and the United States over the territorial integrity of each nation-state in the face of ethnic tension.

Properly incentivizing those Palestinian Arabs willing to relocate is the right thing to do, and should be publicly advocated. It is moral, especially if no one is forced to move against his or her free will.

Israel’s long-term survival and prosperity are more likely to be attained if Israel becomes a larger, self-sufficient, viable state, not a smaller resource-challenged state at the mercy of its neighbors, or Russian—American games of power politics.

--David Naggar