The beginning of the end of the Yugoslav Wars
Initialled on Friday afternoon and approved by both parliaments on Monday morning, the concord between Serbia and Kosovo seems to have so swiftly altered the status quo in the Balkans that it has been presumptuously labelled historic, well before the first condition of that deal has even been implemented.
Brokered by Baroness Ashton and the European External Action Service, the agreement between Serbia and Kosovo is undoubtedly of tremendous significance, since it provides a pathway to the normalisation of relations between two states that have been in a state of antagonism since the disintegration of Yugoslavia in 1991. Under its terms, Kosovo’s sovereignty will for the first time extend to “every corner of its territory”, as their Prime Minister Hasham Thaçi termed it, with Serbia and Kosovo’s Serb minority recognising the authority of the government in Prishtina over the Serb-majority provinces.
As such, Serbia has agreed to dismantle the parallel institutions it has established in Kosovo which presently control local security, healthcare, education, and the judiciary in the places north of Mitrovica. In return, a new Association of Serb Municipalities will be established, afforded broad powers over local affairs. In particular, the Kosovan government has committed to changing the ethnic composition of the police force and the judiciary to better reflect the balance between the Albanian majority and the Serb minority.
It is not yet guaranteed that this pact will hold, of course, nor the terms implemented. The proposal to dismantle Serbian institutions and accept Prishtina’s sovereignty over Serb areas might still face staunch opposition on the ground in Serbian Kosovo itself, where nationalist sentiment is strong and the tricolour Serb flag flown. But, while it cannot be deemed historic now, this agreement between Kosovo and Serbia does have the potential to be historic. It has the potential to reshape the entire region, and finally bring to a conclusion the bloody ethnic and nationalistic Yugoslav Wars.
Shimon Peres speaks to the Israeli press
In the days prior to Yom Ha’atzmaut, President Shimon Peres did the rounds with the Israeli press, giving interviews to The Jerusalem Post, Yediot Aharonot, and The Times of Israel (plus the Hebrew-language press). The themes were wide-ranging and expansive, and so I have selected a few choice comments from the various interviews:
Peres on the peace process:
I think there are no two ways about it, and there will be peace. No on can live in the current intermediate situation. But look what is happening: There is no intifada in the West Bank and in the Gaza Strip, and Hamas is losing public support. You ask yourselves when peace will come. I do not know. I have a handless clock. It doesn’t matter what time it is, because tomorrow morning you can wake up and see a new reality. No one has any idea, but I do think that by the country’s 70-year celebrations, there will be peace. I want to hope. It is not just optimism. (Yediot Aharonot)
Peres on the new government:
This is the first government whose foundation is more social than political. The question is if it is possible to make social reforms without peace? I am not sure about that. I don’t think that if the housing and food prices are reduced, it will bring peace. No peace has a price – what we will gain socially we will lose politically. In my opinion, we must continue (raising) two banners – one social and one political. We have no choice. (Yediot Aharonot)
Peres on Jewishness:
Since we didn’t have land, we are living on our knowledge. That’s in our DNA. People ask me what is the greatest contribution of the Jewish people to the rest of the world. My answer is: dissatisfaction. A good Jew cannot be satisfied. It’s not Jewish. That’s what makes us great contributors to creativity. We are seekers of betterment. (The Times of Israel)
What Barack Obama said about peace
President Obama made the fullest and most complete case for peace and the two-state solution that I have heard from any world leader today in his speech in Jerusalem. Touching on the legacies of Yitzhak Rabin and Menachem Begin, and drawing on the work of Ariel Sharon and the novelist David Grossman, Obama told Israeli students that peace is necessary, peace is just, and peace is possible.
On the necessity of peace:
I believe that peace is the only path to true security. You have the opportunity to be the generation that permanently secures the Zionist dream, or you can face a growing challenge to its future. Given the demographics west of the Jordan River, the only way for Israel to endure and thrive as a Jewish and democratic state is through the realization of an independent and viable Palestine.
There are other factors involved. Given the frustration in the international community about this conflict, Israel needs to reverse an undertow of isolation. And given the march of technology, the only way to truly protect the Israeli people over the long term is through the absence of war, because no wall is high enough and no Iron Dome is strong enough or perfect enough to stop every enemy that is intent on doing so from inflicting harm.
And this truth is more pronounced given the changes sweeping the Arab world. I understand that with the uncertainty in the region, people in the streets, changes in leadership, the rise of nonsecular parties in politics, it’s tempting to turn inward because the situation outside of Israel seems so chaotic. But this is precisely the time to respond to the wave of revolution with a resolve and commitment for peace, because as more governments respond to popular will, the days when Israel could seek peace simply with a handful of autocratic leaders — those days are over.