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Jewish World Review / March 11, 1999 / 23 Adar, 5759

The truth about consequences

By David Twersky

WHY IS THE CLINTON ADMINISTRATION threatening to bomb the Serbs? To force Belgrade to restore autonomy for the largely Albanian province of Kosovo. Why is the Clinton administration unhappy with Benjamin Netanyahu’s government in Israel? Because it says Jerusalem is holding up the peace process with the Palestinians. What these issues have in common is that in both cases America is pursuing not so much an idea based on the relative merits of the respective historical and moral claims, but its own interests.

Take Kosovo. The Serbs are being pressed to accept a far-reaching autonomy for the largely Albanian-populated province. Washington supports autonomy, but not independence — that’s why Secretary of State Madeleine Albright failed to secure an agreement during the talks in Rambouillet, France, last month. The Serbs opposed letting NATO troops onto their sovereign territory, a military presence meant to protect Kosovo Albanians against any further Serbian "ethnic cleansing."

But if the Serbs were blocking the military side of the solution, the Kosovars were nixing the political side — they sought a deal explicitly including a referendum on independence. Albright failed because she could not threaten the Serbs with punitive military strikes so long as both sides and not only the Serbs, were holding up the agreement.

What has this to do with the Palestinians? Just this: America is pressing for autonomy for the Kosovars, but (diplomatic hesitations notwithstanding) independence for the Palestinians. Autonomy for the Palestinians was proposed by prime minister Menachem Begin at Camp David — proposed, then rejected by Washington and by everyone else who argued that the Palestinians will never settle for mere autonomy. And nor should they was the moral logic that accompanied the political assessment.

So why do Palestinians get an independent state when Kosovo Albanians get only autonomy? And while we’re at it, why do the Kurds only merit autonomy in Turkey and a free-fly zone (free, that is, of Iraqi aircraft) in northern Iraq?

Because the Americans fear that an independent Kosovo will affiliate with a "greater" Albania, setting off a chain reaction leading to a Balkan-based European war. If in the case of Kosovo, America fears the consequences of anything beyond autonomy, in the case of the putative Palestine, Washington fears the consequences of anything less than an independent state. If the Palestinian grievance lingers, if the Arab wound festers, Islamic fundamentalists and other troublemakers (Iran and Iraq) will continue to have an excuse to stir the pot. Moreover, pro-American regimes in Cairo, Amman and Riyadh will have a harder time making their case that cooperation with America is in the best interests of the Arabs.

So it’s not that Palestinians deserve an independent state while Kosovars deserve no more than autonomy within Serbia; instead, the moral and historic legitimacy of their respective claims to statehood must stand the further test of advancing, or at least not threatening, regional and American interests.

The fundamental assumptions here should be open to question — for example, there are those who doubt that an even partially independent Palestine will provide a calming effect on the region. But what disturbs us is the moral double standards. The Serbs stand accused of virtual genocidal policies — but they’ll get off with autonomy for the Kosovars. Israel’s claim to Judea and Samaria — that is, its historical, moral, religious claims as well as those arising from security concerns — are given short shrift and its "occupation" policies are subject to a more intense scrutiny and more rigorous and regular condemnations than anything the Serbs do — short of mass murder.

That is not to say that Israel’s claims to the territories necessarily outweigh the other political and moral issues in the balance. But they must not be contemptuously dismissed.

To see just how much this costs Israel, just compare Jerusalem’s lingering Lebanon problems with Turkey’s abduction of Kurdish separatist leader Abdullah Ocalan.

Ocalan pursued a vicious terrorist war with his (until recently) Syrian-based PKK faction. The Syrians used PKK vis-a-vis neighboring Turkey in the same way they use Hizbullah vis-a-vis neighboring Israel — war by proxy.

Ocalan’s terrorism and outdated Marxism aside, surely a case can be made that the Kurdish people — well more than 20 million of whom live scattered across the area where Turkey, Iraq, Syria and Iran converge — deserve their own state. The Kurds are notoriously divided among themselves, but the consequences of an independent Kurdistan weigh even more heavily against them. The Arabs want Iraq to remain one state, run by Sunni Arabs, not three states, with a Shi’ite south that would, they fear, bring the Iranians to the Saudi border. Better, Washington and others conclude, to let sleeping Kurds lie.

So the Europeans press Turkey not to grant its Kurds independence but more autonomy — as in the right to teach their language to their children and to preserve their heritage. And America presses Iraq not to slaughter its Kurds. Now add this up and you can see how the double standard costs Israel. How was it that Ocalan, long sheltered by terrorist states, was suddenly on the lam and vulnerable to abduction? Because Turkey had massed an army on the Syrian border and threatened war unless the PKK was shut down and Ocalan sent packing.

Imagine that Israel would adopt the same solution with regard to Hizbullah, threatening Syria with serious military punishment unless it restrain any and all terrorist activity aimed at Israeli targets. This policy has worked on the Golan Heights, which has remained quiet lo these 25 years. It just worked for Turkey.

It would work for Israel — unless the moral double standard to which Israel is too frequently held kicks in, and the Syrians manage to get a sympathetic hearing.

JWR contributor David Twersky is Editor in Chief of the New Jersey Jewish News.


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©1999, David Twersky