Kosovo and Serbia give Israel diplomatic boon after US-brokered deal
Israel scored two diplomatic gains on Friday when majority-Muslim Kosovo agreed to recognise the Jewish state and Serbia said it would move its embassy to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv.
The decisions came after a White House-brokered agreement between the two Balkan arch-rivals to normalise economic relations two decades after they fought a bitter war.
Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, said Serbia would become the first European country to transfer its embassy to Jerusalem, following Donald Trump’s recognition of the city as Israel’s capital almost three years ago.
Kosovo will also set up its Israel mission in Jerusalem and in exchange earn Israel’s recognition, as it seeks to further legitimise its 2008 declaration of independence and statehood.
“I thank my friend the president of Serbia … for the decision to recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and to transfer his embassy there,” Netanyahu said, adding that the controversial move would go ahead by July 2021.
It was the second piece of big news from Washington in a month for Israel on the diplomatic front. In August, the US brokered a deal for the United Arab Emirates to normalise relations with Israel, symbolically marked on Monday by the first commercial air flight between the two countries.
The agreement, expected to be signed at a White House ceremony in coming weeks, would be Israel’s first with a Gulf nation.
Palestinians reacted with cynicism to the Kosovo and Serbia announcements, suggesting they were aimed at bolstering Trump’s re-election prospects in two months.
“Palestine has become a victim of the electoral ambitions of President Trump, whose team would take any action, no matter how destructive for peace … to achieve his re-election” in November, tweeted Saeb Erekat, secretary-general of the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO). “This, just like the UAE-Israel agreement, isn’t about Middle East peace.”
Trump’s senior adviser and son-in-law, Jared Kushner, said the moves would advance peace and make Americans safer.
“Today’s breakthrough really is historic,” Kushner said at the White House. “This is just another chapter that this administration has been able to write towards making the world a safer and more peaceful place.”
Traditionally, most diplomatic missions in Israel have been in Tel Aviv as countries stayed neutral over the disputed city of Jerusalem, holy to the three Abrahamic faiths, until its status could be settled in an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal.
Israel seized control of East Jerusalem in 1967 and later annexed it in moves never recognised by the international community.
Israel considers the city its undivided capital, but Palestinians see the mostly Arab eastern part of Jerusalem, including the Old City with its holy sites, as the illegally occupied capital of their future state.
The United Nations and the European Union, Israel’s top economic partner, have said the city’s final status must be negotiated between Israelis and Palestinians, and say that until then, countries should not locate their embassies there.