Among the steaming rubble of two unresolved international crises, in the Balkans with the Serbia-Kosovo affair and in the Middle East with the tragedy of Palestine, Donald Trump is trying to build national and international credibility, as the decisive and anxiety-inducing US presidential elections in November are drawing near.
Let’s look at the choreographed performance that aired on Friday from the Oval Room of the White House: Trump seated at the center of the imposing table, even more smug than usual, and two additional tables on either side for Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic and the Kosovo Prime Minister Avdullah Hoti (the only leader from Kosovo fit to be brought before the public, given the Hague Court’s war crimes charges against President Hashim Thaqi and many former UCK militia leaders)—and, as a surprise twist, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on the phone.
Perhaps this is enough for us to understand that we are facing the second chapter, a dangerous extension to the Balkans of the “deal of the century” between the Arab Emirates and Israel, working in the anti-Iran and anti-Turkey direction; and once again, as in the past, with the shelving of the Palestinian question. Trump was not short on bloviating words about the results of the summit: “A truly historic day,” “a truly historic commitment,” “something that nobody thought was going to be possible,” and, to add a little melodrama: “There was a lot of fighting and now there’s a lot of love.” And Trump knows all about hate, given the way he is positioning himself at home against the Black Lives Matter protesters.
However, what would have been a real breakthrough was not reached: i.e. the impossible task of securing recognition by Serbia of the state of Kosovo. Just like before, Belgrade at the Washington summit said no to recognizing the independence proclaimed unilaterally in 2008 and with the open support of the United States, in open contempt of the peace agreements that put an end to the war of aerial bombings by NATO in June 1999. And there was no word about the unlikely “exchange of territories” which Trump was also working to achieve (which would have involved giving the Serbian Presevo Valley, with an Albanian majority, to Kosovo, and the northern Mitrovica region of Kosovo, with a Serbian majority, to Serbia).
The substance of the agreement is exclusively economic in nature, with infrastructure projects, a modest American investment and a normalization of trade. It is certainly important, given that for more than two years, the Kosovo leadership has unilaterally imposed 100% customs tariffs in retaliation against Belgrade’s attempts to block the acceptance of the new state into the UN. Therefore, the status quo ante is now restored, with Serbia remaining the top import-export country for Kosovo, despite the war and the post-war ethnic counter-cleansing of the Serbs remaining in Kosovo.
However, it is true that with this “agreement,” Belgrade seems to be turning its back on Russia and especially China, with which it had set up innovative projects, starting with 5G, which it now agreed to cancel. And there was nothing more about the Serbian-Kosovo crisis—where the war is not yet over, and it is enough to note the presence of the many NATO tanks stationed in front of Serbian monasteries, pressured by new international and local initiatives in areas where hatred for the Serbs is still burning hot. Needless to say, the entire Balkan crisis remains unresolved.
Especially so in Bosnia and Herzegovina, where the Dayton peace is becoming more and more imperiled, leaving room for the clash between Muslim-Bosnian interests, Croatian objectives in Mostar, Herzeg-Bosnia, and nationalist strategies from Serbia. Likewise regarding the birth of North Macedonia, which, while it resolves the tension with Greece for the moment, leaves the issue of the Albanian minority in suspension. The latter doesn’t hide its ultimate goal, taken up by Pristina as well and reiterated by Tirana, of a Greater Albania. Even Montenegro is in fibrillation, recently admitted into NATO, but where the gangster-like Godfather figure, Milo Djukanovic, was recently defeated in elections. Quite the opposite of “love,” in short.
In reality, it was the “bonus” from the White House summit that actually delivered something substantial, with news that dropped heavy as lead: the establishment of diplomatic relations between Tel Aviv and Pristina, which will be the first Muslim country to move its embassy to Jerusalem, receiving in exchange the recognition by Israel of the Kosovar-Albanian State, while Belgrade will be the first European country to do the same, thus undermining the joint decisions of many other countries in the EU that stand against this. This follows what Trump has already done with the decision to move his own embassy, and it is likewise in contempt of the United Nations Resolutions that say, from the perspective of a two-state solution, that Jerusalem—the Holy City for three major religions—is an international city under the aegis of the UN until a negotiated solution is agreed. Meanwhile, Netanyahu is gloating.
The Palestinians, under military occupation, without rights and without land, still in the refugee camps after the Nakba, with a Wall dividing them and stealing their land, with the myriad Israeli colonies settled and protected by the powerful Israeli army—colonies that now make the territorial continuity of a Palestinian state impossible—and, furthermore, divided amongst themselves, are once again sacrificed on the altar of realpolitik ruled by the arrogance of the strongest. So there is nothing to fear: the Palestinians do not exist, they are a non-people.
Why is Trump able to do all this without internal pushback and without any international reactions expected against him? The EU is silent, and things are going smoothly on the US presidential elections front: Biden said that he will not question the move of the US embassy to Jerusalem, so as not to alienate the vote of the powerful American Jewish community. We are very far from Obama’s speech in Cairo in 2009, when he said he felt the pain of the Palestinians, left without land and rights. Since that speech, nothing has been done to change their condition. This is what Trump is taking advantage of—just as he is taking advantage of the Balkan disaster that previous administrations thought they would solve with “humanitarian” wars.
In the Balkans, all the wicked and bloodthirsty internal nationalisms have been the dark obverse of the nascent European Union, with the recognition of independence based on ethnic proclamations that led to the dissolution of the Yugoslav Federation. Then, the NATO intervention came “to the rescue,” which meant that it settled in in southeastern Europe area for the implementation of its strategy of enlargement to the East, with a myriad military bases—most importantly the one at Camp Bondsteel, which makes Kosovo a little place with an American base right beside it.
Now, the “agreement” at the White House is set to backfire on the whole region, which may again experience a terrifying parallel to the Middle Eastern conflicts, always present but bubbling underneath, as there is an open clash in the region between Saudi Arabian and Turkish interests. Those people who had a prominent role in the NATO military intervention in the Balkans, but at the same time hold the Palestinian issue close to heart—like Massimo D’Alema—have a lot of soul-searching to do. Trump inherited that scorched earth, its position of subalternity, the ruins, the abandonment by previous administrations, and is using it according to his “vision.” Here, the West has created only military servitude: not self-determination but the other-determination of peoples. The very opposite of peace. Now, we are just waiting for them to erect a bronze statue of Trump in Pristina, even taller than the 15-foot one already put up for Bill Clinton as a thanks for the “humanitarian” war.