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Bosnia Divided On Palestinian Request For Statehood Support

Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas (second from left) is welcomed by members of Bosnian Presidency, Zeljko Komsic (left), Bakir Izetbegovic (second from right), and Nebojsa Radmanovic (right) upon his arrival for bilateral talks in Sarajevo on August 15.
SARAJEVO -- Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas was told in Bosnia-Herzegovina that Bosnia's three ethnic groups have not reached agreement on whether to recognize Palestinian statehood, RFE/RL's Balkan Service reports.

Abbas met with Bosnia's three-member, interethnic presidency and Foreign Minister Sven Alkalaj on August 15, the second day of his visit, and said after the meetings that he expected Bosnian help that was pledged for the Palestinian territories' planned declaration of statehood in the United Nations next month.

"We came to an agreement that we should continue our consultations in the near future until we go to the United Nations," he said. "We expect all support from them as they told us and we believe them."

The Palestinians hope to get two-thirds support from the UN's General Assembly -- 128 votes from the body's 192 members -- for their declaration.

Since the assembly's decisions are not legally binding, the resolution would also require support from the Security Council, where the United States has vowed to veto any Palestinian move toward statehood unless there is a negotiated peace agreement with Israel.

Bosnia is on the UN Security Council as a nonpermanent member.

Alkalaj said the country's presidency is still divided on the issue.

"I hope -- and this is one of the most important questions in the world -- that all of us in Bosnia-Herzegovina want to see peace in that part of the world, and that all people who live there continue with their lives in peace," he said.

Bosnian politicians are split on the Palestinian issue along the same ethnic lines as in the the case of independence for Kosovo, which Sarajevo has not recognized.

Denisa Sarajlic-Maglajlic, an analyst at the Sarajevo-based Foreign Policy Initiative, told RFE/RL on August 15 that "the problem is...that Bosnia does not have a foreign policy, does not have an agreed position about most issues. What comes out in these situations are party, ethnic, or 'entity' interests, which then influence everything."

Local media reported that the presidency's Bosnian Muslim member, Bakir Izetbegovic, and Croat member Zeljko Komsic support the Palestinian drive for statehood while their Serbian colleague, Nebojsa Radmanovic, is opposed.

The position of Muslim politicians and religious leaders reflects a high level of sympathy for the Palestinians and close ties with the Islamic world.

But Republika Srpska, which along with the Muslim-Croat Federation composes Bosnia-Herzegovina, has in recent years intensified its relations with Israel.

Pro-Israeli analysts and commentators are also often quoted in Bosnian Serb media with statements about Bosnia being a potential hotbed of Islamic radicalism.

Republika Srpska President Milorad Dodik visited Israel last year and promised to promote Israeli interests in Bosnia when he had the opportunity.

In May, Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman visited the Srpska capital, Banja Luka, on a private trip with a group of businessmen.

Milos Solaja, a Banja Luka-based political analyst, told RFE/RL that Bosnia would in the end probably try to follow European Union directives on the Palestinian statehood issue.

"Bosnia is in a delicate situation and there is a heavy burden on our politicians' shoulders," Solaja said. "Bosnia could stay neutral in this affair and it probbaly will in the end."