Kosovo and Israel signed an agreement on February 1 to establish diplomatic relations in a deal brokered in the closing months of the presidency of Donald Trump. Due to the coronavirus pandemic, the multi-party meeting concluding the agreement was virtual.
The announcement was not unexpected. The White House had announced the two countries’ new diplomatic ties last September as a last-minute addition to an economic agreement between Kosovo and Serbia that was rushed to signature before Trump’s election loss. As part of the deal, Serbia, which already had full diplomatic ties with Israel, was said to have agreed to move its Tel Aviv embassy to Jerusalem.
The virtual ceremony was also attended by Deputy Assistant Secretary Matthew Palmer, responsible for Southeastern Europe, a holdover from the Trump administration.
The administration of President Joe Biden hailed the agreement on February 2 at the State Department’s new daily press briefing, considered part of the so-called “Abraham Accords” framework sharply expanding Israel’s diplomatic presence with Muslim countries, many of whom are in the Persian Gulf. It was explained in that briefing that Washington would continue to work to expand upon progress already achieved. “When our partners are united, the United States is stronger. Deeper international ties help further peace and stability in the Balkans and the Middle East,” Department spokesman Ned Price also tweeted.
Work proceeds quickly
During the virtual ceremony, Israeli Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi noted he had received an official request from Kosovo to establish its embassy in Jerusalem, which may open as early as the end of March. The ceremony also included the unveiling of a commemorative plaque to be placed at the entrance to Kosovo’s embassy in Jerusalem upon opening.
In her remarks Kosovo’s Foreign Minister Meliza Haradinaj-Stublla explained that Kosovo and Israel shared a “historic bond” and both “witnessed a long and challenging path to existing as a people and becoming states.” She added “Today Israel becomes the 117th state to recognize Kosovo as an independent and sovereign state. Our people have friendly relations and from today we start relations as two states.”
During Kosovo’s long struggle for independence from Serbia, Kosovo’s citizens often took inspiration from Israel’s determined struggle to achieve independence, modeling their actions on Israel’s successes both in guerilla campaigns against the British occupation forces and later, against invading armies of the Arab neighboring states.
Kosovo will be conducting parliamentary elections on February 14. A decision by Kosovo’s Election Complaints and Appeals Panel is preventing former Prime Minister Albin Kurti, leader of the country’s largest opposition party, Vetevendosje (Self-Determination), from declaring his candidacy in these elections; the country’s recognition of Israel, while controversial to some, is not seen to be at risk.
Diplomatic complications surrounding Jerusalem
The Jerusalem-based diplomatic corps may be growing, but so far progress remains excruciatingly slow. Up to the present, only the United States and Guatemala have opened embassies in Jerusalem and Joe Biden’s diplomatic team has announced no plans to alter the status quo. Serbia has so far not revealed any plans to move its embassy there, with some in Belgrade claiming the earlier agreement made with operatives from Trump’s team was non-binding.
The February 1 Kosovo-Israel mutual recognition ceremony unleashed a new round of angry accusations, for different reasons, from both Belgrade and Ankara.
Although aware of the plans, Belgrade was nonetheless dismayed by Israel’s recognition of Kosovo. “We have invested serious efforts in our relations with Israel in recent years and we are not happy with this decision” Serbia’s Foreign Minister Nikola Selakovic told local media on February 2. Israel’s move will “undoubtedly influence relations between Serbia and Israel,” he said. Accordingly, nobody should be expecting an immediate move of Serbia’s embassy to Jerusalem, if ever.
Taking a different approach, Turkey criticized Kosovo harshly for agreeing to open its embassy in Jerusalem, saying that it violates United Nations resolutions and international law.
“Kosovo’s commitment in question is in violation of international law, in particular U.N. resolutions adopted on this matter,” Turkish Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Hami Aksoy said in a written statement February 1. Aksoy further explained that the step Kosovo took would not serve the Palestinian cause and would harm the two-state solution.