Albania, Jerusalem and Two Resolutions
By By Genc Pollo*
Albanian Daily News
Published January 9, 2018
To describe how the government explained its approval of the America bashing Final Communique of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) summit in Istanbul and its vote at the UN General Assembly for the resolution which condemned the US President's decision to transfer the US Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, both last December, could be helped by a very popular character among several Albanian generations: the good soldier Švejk in the homonymous novel of the Czech writer Jaroslav Ha?ek. His illogical and naïve quotescomes to mind while hearing our minister of foreign affairs stating on December 22nd that the resolution in question "was not a vote against the US"! Instead it was a vote alignedwith the member states of many organizations, including "NATO"! The same minister, speaking in the Parliamentary session of December 14th, considered as "lack of gigantomania" the acerbic language on America, unusual for an intergovernmental conference, which was approved also by his envoy the previous day in Istanbul, at the end of the urgent OIC summit. After all, being a minister is something serious, even though the public, in the light of the things that has recently seen, might have forgotten this. Even more serious is how the government acts in such internationally sensitive cases. Therefore I will try to elaborate here the guiding principles in formulating Albania's position on the Middle East focusing not too much on the paradigm of the current debate: “Whether we betrayed or not our great ally across the pond?"
Israel, Palestine and Jerusalem
The state of Israel was founded based on a 1947 UN decision that recommended also an adjacent Palestinian (Arab) state. It aimed to solve a current problem besides undoing some historical injustice highlighted by the Holocaust. But in the Promised and assigned land the Jews encountered the hostility of their Arab neighbour states. Israel came out militarily successful, managed to control west Jerusalem (1948) and two years later, after setting there the parliamentary and government headquarters declared it as the state capital. In 1967, it expanded its control over the entire city and further to the Jordan River. But the foreign embassies that first settled in Tel Aviv, remained there awaiting an agreed settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Since this has not happened and was not in sight, President Trump decided to do what Congress had been asking for in the last twenty two years and every leading presidential candidate before him promised to do: To recognize the factual reality and locate his embassy where its business is, i.e. near the headquarters of the Israeli government. All this in West Jerusalem which, whatever the future agreed settlement will look like, for sure will remain part of the state of Israel.
This US action is clearly a gesture of friendship and demonstration of support for an ally that since its inception faced aggressive neighbours, some of which until recently officially put ‘the destruction of the state of Israel’ in their charters.Indirectly it is also follows on the historical-religious argument that the Jewish claim on the Jerusalem Old City is the oldest:nearly three thousand years ago the Jewish kings David and Solomon choseit as the unified Israeli capital and built there the first Temple. Nine centuries later the resurrection of Jesus, happened there, in the today’s Holy Sepulchre Church. While the ascension of the Islamic prophet Muhammad to heaven is believed to have occurred 15 centuries later from the current AlAqsa Mosque, making Jerusalem the third most sacred city for Muslims, after Mecca and Medina.
The critics see this move as a possible spark for the outbreak of violence in Palestinian territories, Israel and possibly in the Middle East, and as endangering the peace process since the Palestinian side would feel provoked and would be less willing to negotiate and agreed solution. The advocates point out that the US has made it clear that the transfer of the US embassy to Jerusalem does not condition or prejudice the future status of this city subject to a negotiated settlement, nor the content of the deal, namely the territories where the Palestinian state will stretch in the future. Moreover a month after the announcement of this decision, despite pro-Palestinian reactions from various countries and actors, no huge riots or big turmoil have been recorded except for sporadic violent acts in West Bank; the only step back in the process is the Palestinian Authority suspending contacts with the United States and the OIC statement (including Albania unfortunately) questioning/rejecting the US role in the peace process.
The US has always defended Israel - faced with existential threats from neighbours - and it did the right thing! But America has also been an honest broker between the two sides, for example, during the final negotiations 17 years ago under the auspices of Presidential Clinton in Camp David. There the long-awaited accord was scuppered due primarily to the intransigence of Palestinian side. This extreme approach does not come from the Palestinian people, who deserve a sustainable arrangement and sufficient territories. It has been injected by Arab states, mostly the Baathist, pro soviet regimes from Algiers to Baghdad, who used the Palestinian cause as a pawn for their own interests. The fact is that today, Palestinian leaders and their supporters firmly accept the pre 1967 borders, which they had violently rejected since 1948. As for the claim of the US bias, let us remember that the peace talks have been mediated for nearly two decades from the Middle East Quartet which apart from the US comprises of also the UN, the European Union and Russia with its preferences, if not its favouritism.
Albania, Israel, Palestine
Before I try to define some guiding principles helping formulate an Albanian position let us look back a bit. Communist Albania was a resolute and unconditional supporter by "all means" of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO). The Enver Hoxha regime, besides militarily training in the 70’ for the terror prone PLO militants, regularly voted for the anti-Israel resolutions on the UN General Assembly, which were adopted by the combined numbers of the Warsaw Pact members, pro Soviet, Marxist former colonies in Africa, Asia and especially the countries of the Non-Aligned Movement, leaving the members of NATO and their allies in a minority. Our minister refers also to these resolutions when he seriously states that he is aligned with the historical international consensus.
In the last quarter century of free Albania a balanced position was maintained by establishing diplomatic relations with Israel and exchanging high-level visits with all parties. I would recall from the first years the attendance of Shimon Perez, then Israeli Foreign Minister at the 28 November (National Day) official ceremony in Tirana, as well as the visit of the Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat. At the UN, Tirana’s vote has been in general pro the resolutions seeking the advancement of the peace process and a proper solution to the Palestinian issue. But within initiatives carrying extreme language or exclusionary content which were also strongly opposed by Washington, our vote would turn into an abstention as was the often-quoted case of 2012 (please mind: it was the Obama administration)
The premise of Albania's positioning can be examined through the prism of four principles:
1- The Humanitarian Principle; in the recent weeks many persons have mentioned the Palestinian people's suffering in the refugee camps in the region as a justification for a clear pro-Palestinian position of Tirana even of the acute positioning in December in Istanbul and New York. It is human to feel empathy for human suffering and the right thing to demonstrate it; but more helpful than grand posturing is to contribute, even modestly, to alleviate the suffering. A compromise solution away from intransigence "or all or nothing" would have better served to people in the West Bank, Gaza, or in the refugee camps. It is rather doubtful -to put it softly - that the UN resolution, even less the OIC communique will bring about even a slight improvement. Moreover, the Palestinian problem needs to be put in perspective: the 20th century has apparently seen abundantly displacement of populations and waves of refugees as a result of inter-state or civil wars, and violence by government or other factors. The Armenians during the First World War, the Chams after the First and Second World War, the Germans of the Sudeten, Silesia and East Prussia after the Nazi capitulation, the Bosnians in the 1990s and up to this day the Syrians who fled the horrors of home and the Rohingya driven away by the Burmese army, are examples from a long and tragic list. But it is hard to find any other case which got more attention from the world opinion, more efforts by international actors, and more humanitarian aid than the Palestinians since 1948.
2-The Copenhagen Principle: Democracies Love and Support One another! They are based on the same values that they promote all-over the world. Therefore, mutual support and close cooperation are also self-evident. At least this is the belief in Europe. And the oppressive regimes do not love democracies because they see them as a danger: exposure toward them causes processes that result in the loss of power. The features of democracy like free vote, the rule of law, human rights and the market economy (the EU calls them the Copenhagen Criteria) in the Middle East are met only by Israel. Perhaps Lebanon can come somehow closer. The other Arab states are generally autocratic and theocratic regimes where leaders change when they die or are violently removed. In Israel it’s only after the general election that one learns who the next leader is. The 10% Arab minority in Israel may want or not, to live in a Palestinian state. But their current political and civic rights are far better accomplished than anywhere else in the region. And so on. So if we believe in democracy, then perhaps we should reconsider our position in the Middle East based on the Copenhagen principle.
3- The principle of state interest, as the oldest and the classic one, is perhaps even simpler to examine. Albania a small Balkan country 1800 km away from Jerusalem cannot have essential interests there. Economic and trade exchanges with Palestinian businesses are minimal if not zero; with Israel something more but still insignificant. We can add here a small but vivid community of Albanian Jewish who emigrated in Israel in the 1991, the honouring in Yad Vashem of Albanians who saved the Jews during WW2 (one of the deeds to be proud of), but still the principle under consideration would advice prudent neutrality.
But if Kosovo is brought into the equation, things change. Tirana has considered helping the international recognition of Kosovo as a national obligation and a contribution to peace and stability in the Balkans; it tried to help as much as it could. With not much to show with the Israel and Palestine since none of them has recognized it. But there is a difference: the non recognition from Israel is of an inertial nature, without any clear motivation and therefore can change. From Palestinian officials when they speak in Belgrade, ambassador or President, we hear only pathetic oaths that they will never recognize Kosovo as a state and that they will ever recognize Serbia in its pre-war borders; obviously a gift by the Yugoslav Non Aligned nostalgia. In this perspective, the principle of state interest speaks for itself.
4- The Religious Principle. During these weeks, people close to the government have touted religion as a motivation for a clear pro Palestinian position of Albania, the country having a nominal Muslim majority, as well as an excuse for Istanbul and New York. It is the first time that it appears as an argument. I have not heard this in the NATO war in Afghanistan (2001), neither in the US led intervention in Iraq (2003), nor in the war against Al-Qaeda (2001-2015), nor in the war against the “Islamic Caliphate” aka DAESH or ISIS (2015-2017) in which Albania, in political unanimity stood with the Western democracies, with concrete contribution most of the time. It is the first attempt to confessionalize the foreign policy of our secular multi-religious state. It would be very good if it were the last: Because it most probably will foster religious radicalism, its political instrumentalization and will defy the decades’ long Euro-Atlantic orientation of our Republic. In addition, no one took the trouble to ask our citizens, the Muslim believers and the others also, what they think or feel about this matter if they really feel or think something clear and different from the politicians they elected. Let’s again bring Kosovo with its higher Muslim component in. If the religious principle is considered valid then it must also be reciprocal. Then, how can it be explained that from the 57 member states of the OIC, only around half have recognized Kosovo? Is this because of nostalgic love for Tito's Yugoslavia and today's Belgrade? Is this a snub to America and Europe? We can leave the answer to these questions for later, as well as a sober debate on the national benefit from the membership in the OIC. But we should dismiss now the religious principle.
A calm judgement on our official position in Israel-Palestine case and the hottest topics in the Middle East would not lead us into to the pro Palestinian trench.
Normally it may tilt us a bit towards Israel or still, with some strain, keep us neutral and equidistant.
What about America?
The five-pages Final Resolution of the OIC summit, as it says in its preamble "was convened in Istanbul, Turkey, on 25th Rabi’Awwal 1439 AH (according to Hegira, the Islamic calendar; author’s note) - December 13, 2017 (according to the Gregorian calendar; author’s note) contains these passages:
Item 1: The OIC Summit…… rejects and condemns in strong terms the unilateral decision of the President of the United States recognizing Al Quds (the Arabic name of Jerusalem, author's note), as the so-called capital of Israel- the occupying power.
Item 9: The OIC Summit ... … condemns in this regard the full and unjustified bias of the U.S. Congress in favor of the imperial and racist policies and practices of Israel- the occupying Power.
Resolution of this Summit, point 6: The OIC Summit holds the U.S. Administration fully liable for all the consequences of not retracting from this illegal decision; and considers it as an announcement of the U.S. Administration's withdrawal from its role in the last decade, as sponsor of peace.
While point 3 calls for boycotting members of the US Congress who support Israel (the Jerusalem Embassy Act back in 1995 got more than 90% of the vote; the Senate reconfirmed it unanimously on 5 June 2017).
If these statements are not anti-American, as we were assured by the responsible minister then what does he considers as such? Only calls to kill Americans wherever they’re found and with any means from knives to trucks? Neither the European Union nor its member states would ever approve such statement! The minister may lie pretending “alignment”, but approval of these texts by a EU membership aspiring country, can only damage its aspirations. As regards the UN resolution, there was no joint position taken in the EU Foreign Affairs Council, which would have been binding for Albania as a candidate country. So a number of EU member states, probably with a fresh memory of American contribution to their freedom and aware of the current role of US in their national security, opted to abstain. Even this resolution initiated by Turkey and Yemen (Turkey I understand. But Yemen?! A country in civil war and with no government?! What for?!) although not with the Istanbul shrill, still is of a Dazibao sort that singles out the US, aiming to abase it in front of the world! Reminiscent of the Enver Hoxha time collective meetings where the prospective “enemy of the people” had to endure all sort of criticism before repenting and recanting. Why so? Because the US moved their embassy somewhere from city A to city B. This type of public humiliation should not be tolerated neither by Yemen, let alone America. The US Ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley, as she stated herself, had twice emailed each permanent mission in New York, warning that the resolution was unacceptable for her government. This, in defiance of the apologists of our government which had whispered that Washington had not asked them not to support the Turkish-Yemenite proposal. And Nikki Haley is totally right when she says that the US does not have any divine obligation to finance aid to states that in the morning get the US handout and in the afternoon spit those hands.
On the way to bananas
A proper praise to democratic Albania is that, since the mid-1990s, after the Socialist Party shed the anti-Western legacy, there has been a stable cross-party consensus around a Euro-Atlantic oriented foreign and security policy. The criticism in Parliament on these topics focuses mostly on to the government inability to achieve the announced goals and not about the goals themselves. In this context, parliamentary consultations have a relative political weight. But in cases when a serious bone of contention comes up, a wise government would attempt to dialogue with other parties even if it thinks it has little chance to convince them. During December the MPs of the Foreign Affairs Committee from the majority and the opposition constantly invited the minister to explain his position on this case and to consult the committee. This, not to get their permission to act as his spokespersons suggest, but to inform the lawmakers and also to hear their opinions about the topic. To no avail. The same goes for the President of the Republic, who was deliberately left in the dark even after formally requesting to be informed. I am sure that consulting with the other state bodies, even if it would not change the government position, (abstention in New York and distancing in Istanbul could have been a solution), could have at least moderated the reactions that followed. And they showed to everyone that we have a banana government which puts state relations with the world at the disposal offoreign autocrats and at the service of their personal and party interests.
*MP of the Democratic Party at the Parliament of the Republic of Albania