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Last Updated: Tuesday, 12 June 2007, 12:18 GMT 13:18 UK
Jeremy Bowen diary: Kosovo v Palestine
By Jeremy Bowen
BBC Middle East editor

George Bush being welcomed by Sali Berisha
Mr Bush received the warmest of receptions from his hosts in Tirana
The problem with certainty and leadership in international politics is that when it goes wrong, it really goes wrong. Look at Iraq and Messrs Bush and Blair.

But you are not much of a world leader if you give up trying to lead.

Therefore President Bush must have found it refreshing this weekend to be in Tirana, the capital of Albania.

The prime minister there, Sali Berisha, told him that he was the most important guest Albania had ever had.

Stamps were issued to mark the historic day, a street was renamed and Uncle Sam stars-and-stripes top hats were handed out.

Forget talking peace for a moment; the best case scenario is for things to stagger on as they are, in a state of despairing stasis
Mr Bush repaid his hosts when he announced that Kosovo, the overwhelmingly ethnic Albanian region of the former Yugoslavia, ought to become independent.

"Sooner rather than later," he said at a joint news conference with Mr Berisha, "you've got to say 'enough's enough - Kosovo is independent'".

Two-state solutions

Many of the people who went on to hate what is happening in Iraq supported Nato's separation of Kosovo from Serbia in 1999, after an 11-week bombing campaign and an invasion.

Smashing the Serbs looked like justice after everything they had done in the Balkans since 1991, even if there was no explicit authorisation from the United Nations for what happened.

Kosovo Albanians and Gazans abandon their homes (1999 and 2006)
Kosovo, then - Gaza now: but where is the will to find a solution?
Since then Kosovo has been run by the UN, and its envoy Martti Ahtisaari recently recommended that Kosovo's only viable future was independence.

So it is not surprising that Mr Bush is supporting independence for Kosovo so explicitly. But could there ever be as much clarity about Israel and the Palestinians?

Actually, on one level there is already. Almost everyone - Mr Bush, Mr Blair, Vladimir Putin of Russia, a majority of Israelis and their prime minister and a majority of Palestinians and their president - agrees that the only way forward is to establish a Palestinian state alongside Israel.

There is less overt international agreement about independence for Kosovo. President Putin, who is supporting Serbia, is against it. For Serbian nationalists, Kosovo is a very special place, at the centre of their history, and the site of their most holy places.

Traditionally, Serbs were brought up to believe that Kosovo was their Jerusalem, even though in modern times Serbs have been outnumbered there nine-to-one by ethnic Albanians.

Distant horizons

The reality is that while it has become easy, politically almost cost-free, for leaders to call for a Palestinian state, there is no agreement about its borders, its capital, or the kind of sovereignty, if any, it would have.

Perhaps that is not surprising, given the toxicity of the issues.

But what the Middle East lacks, and Kosovo seems to have, is international determination to try to get the job done.

Left-wing rally in Tel Aviv
US inaction risks bringing far worse Arab-Israeli scenarios to reality
Most importantly, the US president, despite, or perhaps because he is already involved in some mutual muscle flexing with Russia, has been prepared to state explicitly what he wants the future to look like.

Apart from vague suggestions from the US secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice, that the Palestinians need to be shown a "political horizon", Washington is not doing much that is real and discernible to drive the diplomacy that is needed to stop the Israel-Palestinian crisis getting worse.

The international peace plan known as the roadmap is moribund.

It was supposed to have produced a Palestinian state by now, but neither Israel nor the Palestinians have even fulfilled their obligations under its first stage.

Forget about talking peace for a moment; the best case scenario is for things to stagger on as they are, in a state of despairing stasis.

There are plenty of worst case scenarios, all disastrous, and the US could be helping to make some of them happen.

Best chance

I had better point out right now that I am not equating Albanians and Serbs, wherever they live, with either the Israelis or the Palestinians.

What I am saying is while the Americans still believe they are world leaders, they need to prove it by working much harder to settle the conflict in the Holy Land.

They are the people with the best chance of doing it.

It would mean taking risks, talking to enemies as well as friends, and being firm with friends as well as enemies.

And it would be very surprising indeed if it happens while George W Bush is in the White House.



SEE ALSO
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