Since the negotiations on the future of Kosovo have started there have been two currents: one current sees it as real negotiations; the other believes that independence is inevitable and considers the negotiations just some formality before independence can be imposed.
Specially on the American side one can see the latter attitude. The two sides will never agree on the future of Kosovo, so these negotiations are pointless is the reasoning. And so it is inevitable that in the end the international community will have to impose a solution. And so one hears diplomats talking about the end of the year as a deadline. If there is no agreement by then a solution will have to be imposed.
In practice this functions as an encouragement for all three sides to stall the negotiations. For the Albanians it is clear: why should they do concessions when they will get souvereignity (and a much stronger negotiation position) in the end anyway. On the Serb side few politicians will risk making consessions when in the end they will be "rewarded" with an imposed solution. But probably worst is that even on the international side there seems to be little motivation to make the negotiations a success.
For most negotiations it doesn't make a difference whether Kosovo becomes independent or not. If it does not become independent it will be a province with a high degree of self-governance and so the issues of property and minority rights will be the same. In my opinion it is very important that the international community takes an active role in these negotiations. Here there are many issues that some good international negotiator with moral authority could solve in a way that is acceptable to both sides. It is here that even some imposed partial solutions for small problems might have good results.
As for the status: it doesn't take rocket science to understand that no Serb government is going to accept Kosovo's independence if it means that immediately most of Kosovo's Serbs will leave for Serbia. So - allthough I am in favor of independence - it does not astonish or bother me that Serbia only offers autonomy. It just means that the Albanian side will have to stop hiding behind legalistic barriers. As the proverb says: the proof of the pudding is in the eating. Only when most of Kosovo's Serbs want to stay their position is really adequately protected in an independent Kosovo.
Negotiations will about status will be a lot easier when other stumbling blocks have been removed. For Albanians autonomy will become less unacceptable once Serbia is no longer seen as blocking Kosovo's economic progress. And Serbs will be more prone to accept independence once minority rights function well.
Ahtisaari has been an expert in doing the wrong things as a negotiator. He is hardly involved in real negotiations. Instead he speculates about what should happen if the negotiations fail and wants to talk about the status resolution at a moment that the other problems are far from solved (as aI demonstrated above such talks are doomed to fail). I think Ahtisaari is a very good demonstration of why I am against further European centralisation: it is too far from the citizens and so the powers ends often up in the hands of the lobbies - just like in the US. Ahtisaari was formerly involved with the ICG - a lobby group that pleads for Kosovo's independence.
I see some flexibility on both sides and I believe that a real solution for Kosovo is possible. Some real international involvement might help a lot by encouraging both sides to accept reasonable solutions. But there is a danger that the negotiations will end up as a similar farce as the Rambouillet negotiations in 1999 - that served to justify starting the Kosovo war. Statements of Burns and others about deadlines and an imposed "solution" if this deadline is not met piont in that direction. The low level of international commitment to the ongoing negotiations makes this scenario even more credible.