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Bosnia: How To Wriggle Out Of The Palestinian Statehood Vote

Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas (second from left) is welcomed by members of the Bosnian Presidency, Zeljko Komsic (left), Bakir Izetbegovic (second from right), and Nebojsa Radmanovic (right) upon his arrival for bilateral talks in Sarajevo earlier th
In the space of just one week, both Israeli and Palestinian officials have descended on Bosnia-Herzegovina in an attempt to influence officials in Sarajevo ahead of a September vote on Palestinian statehood at the United Nations. Both are counting on Bosnia's vote, and both have an equally strong chance of getting it.

In mid-August, Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu met with Bosnian Serb officials to court favor; a few days later, Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas visited Sarajevo, where he met with various state officials to lobby for the statehood initiative.

True to trend, Bosnian state officials failed to offer anything concrete by way of foreign policy inclinations, largely because Bosnia does not have any foreign policy. Money and religion will be the deciding factors.

As of now, the Bosnian delegation to the United Nations Security Council has not received any official instructions from the country's tripartite presidency on how it should vote and the contentiousness of the issue promises delays that will last until the 11th hour.

How will Bosnia-Herzegovina vote in the end is anyone's guess: not a single political party has gone public with its opinion.

The Palestinians appear to have secured two-thirds support in the 192-member UN General Assembly, but that support is not binding and will require approval by the Security Council. The United States has said it would veto any Palestinian move that does not include a negotiated peace deal with Israel.

While Bosnia's vote is not likely to be a deciding factor in the Security Council, it is likely to add to the political paralysis at home.

Endless Variables

Bosnia's decision must be based on a consensus of representatives of the country's three constituent nations, which in statistical effect virtually precludes support for Palestinian statehood.

Bosnian Serb leader Milorad Dodik
Bosniaks and Bosnian Croats will most likely side with the Palestinians, while the Serbs are likely to support Israel. Recently, Bosnian Serb leader Milorad Dodik made several trips to Israel with offerings of support, underlining the strong bond between Serbs and Jews, as they "were both victims of the Nazi regime in the Second World War."

In May, Bosnia's Serb-dominated Republika Srpska entity saw a visit from an Israeli delegation, with Dodik playing host to Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman and a group of Israeli businessmen.

Economic cooperation between the two is worth millions of dollars and Dodik is nothing if not pragmatic in this respect.

For their part, Bosniaks and Bosnian Croats are seeking improved relations with the Islamic world and are hoping to see more wealthy Middle East investors in the federation entity.

Incoherent And Unpredictable

The incoherence of Bosnia's foreign policy in the Security Council theater surfaced last year when Bosnian leaders were set to vote on a new round of sanctions against Iran. Almost across the board, analysts and commentators predicted that Bosnian officials would either abstain or vote against the sanctions.

Instead, they surprised everyone by voting yes. Perhaps it should not have been so surprising, though. While Washington no longer maintains a high profile in Bosnia, it remains a major power broker behind the scenes.

There are also a number of last-minute variables that must be considered -- and they are everything but pragmatic.
The reasoning went like this: Bosniaks would likely oppose the sanctions in deference to relations with Islamic countries and public pressure; Serbs would likely oppose the sanctions simply to irk the United States, whose involvement in the 1992-95 war in Bosnia is less than fondly remembered; Bosnian Croats were rather indifferent.

In an unprecedented show of unity, the Bosnian Presidency reached a joint decision on the issue and voted in favor of the sanctions -- albeit shortly after a visit to Sarajevo by a high-level delegation from Washington, which dangled encouragement in the form of EU and NATO integration.

Competing Influences

Attempting to predict how Bosnia will vote depends on a number of variables, from the eternal "ethnic" power struggle at home to the level of influence and money wielded by external forces. There are also a number of last-minute variables that must be considered -- and they are everything but pragmatic.

It could play out that the Bosnian Serb leadership opposes Palestinian statehood at the Security Council because Bosniaks are in favor of it, Israeli money aside.

If Bosnian Serbs vote in Israel's favor, which has so far been the indication, it will also be the first time that Dodik chooses not to follow the lead of Serbia, which has announced it will support Palestinian statehood as a pragmatic move to strengthen relations with Islamic countries, many of which have opposed Serbia's refusal to recognize Kosovo's independence.

Russia, another staunch Bosnian Serb political ally and financier, is also planning to vote for Palestinian statehood. There is also Turkey to consider, which has been launching its own campaign for countries to support Palestinian statehood, and whose growing influence and investment in Bosnia is making it a force to be reckoned with.

The safest route for Bosnia to take is to hope for a common European Union position on the issue and to adopt that as its own.

Anes Alic is the Sarajevo-based executive director of ISA Intel, a senior analyst for ISN Security Watch, and a contributor to Oxford Analytica. The views expressed in this commentary are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect those of RFE/RL