On July 7, Mahmoud Abbas, who is referred to as the President of Palestine in the Balkan press, met with officials of the Serbian government in Belgrade. Abbas publically reaffirmed “the traditional longstanding friendship between the Serbian and Palestinian peoples” and stated that Serbia could contribute to the Middle East peace process.
Abbas stated, “I am counting on you, Mr. President [Boris Tadic], to continue supporting efforts to reach a solution in the Middle East through talks with Israel that will enable Israel and Palestine to live side-by-side and cooperate as neighbors.” He then addressed the status of Kosovo, saying “The Kosovo issue is before the International Court [of Justice] and I believe that that is the right way to resolve every problem. That is our stance.”
On the part of Serbia, Prime Minister Mirko Cvetkovic issued a statement thanking President Abbas for “the support he extends Serbia in preserving its territorial integrity and sovereignty.” President Tadic even announced plans for a scholarship initiative for Palestinian students.
I have to admit, this initially confused me. Past experience caused me to (wrongly) assume that Palestine would see the similarities in their situation to that of Kosovo and politically align with the newborn country.
For example, during my time in Ireland, I had the opportunity to study the history of Northern Ireland and eventually visit Belfast. Northern Ireland is home to The Troubles, where the population is divided along political and religious lines, resulting in a LONG history of violence (read Tim Pat Coogan’s “The Troubles” for a historical overview of the situation in Northern Ireland). They see their situation mirrored in the Middle East and have chosen sides in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The Republicans (who are mainly Catholic, and want a unified and independent Ireland) support the Palestinians, while the Unionists (who are mainly Protestant, and want to maintain their ties with the United Kingdom) support the Israelis. This is most clearly demonstrated in the political murals that are found throughout the city, such as the one below.
(The writing in the mural to the left says “Palestine…The largest concentration camp in the world!!! 3.3 million innocent people tortured, denied their freedom!” The Arabic writing in the mural to the right is a translation of a Republican slogan, Tiocfaidh ár Lá or “our day will come.”)
Then, it dawned on me. I may not be a politician, but Abbas sure is.
Cultivating ties with Serbia is brilliant political maneuvering. Serbia is closely allied with Russia, Syria and Egypt, all major world players. Maintaining and strengthening good relations with these three nations will result in an increase in actual support for the Palestinian cause on the international stage. Serbia and Russia regard Kosovo’s declaration of independence illegal, and while other Middle Eastern nations have recognized the government of Kosovo (the most recent being Jordan), Egypt and Syria are not among them. In fact, Egypt even prevented a delegation of Kosovar officials from participating in the 2008 Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) that was held in Cairo.
Of course, some in Kosovo have suggested that Palestinians are just jealous.
Posted By Tiffany Ommundsen
Posted Jul 10th, 2009