In a deal brokered during the closing months of the presidency of Donald Trump, Kosovo and Israel agreed to establish diplomatic relations as part of the so-called “Washington Agreement.” This made up a small but significant component of a larger US-brokered deal designed to improve bilateral economic ties between Kosovo and Serbia in support of broader EU efforts to resolve the Kosovo-Serbia dispute.
Both Kosovo and Serbia were said to have committed in the Washington Agreement to set up embassies in Jerusalem. For Kosovo, this would be a completely new facility, while Serbia would have to eventually move its existing embassy to Israel’s capital from its current site in Tel Aviv.
The US 2020 presidential election connection
Although many saw the Jerusalem embassy provisions as a component of Trump’s failed 2020 re-election campaign, the administration of President Joe Biden indicated in early February that it fully supported the Kosovo-Serbia agreement hammered out in 2020 and expressed support, as well, for the so-called “Abraham Accords” framework, which has sharply expanded Israel’s diplomatic interaction with several key Muslim countries, many of which are in the Persian Gulf.
The official ceremony marking the start of Kosovo-Israel diplomatic relations was held virtually on February 1 with a senior US official participating, and Kosovo’s diplomatic representatives have been arriving in Israel since that time to establish a physical presence.
Almost immediately after Kosovo and Israel established diplomatic relations, the Turkish Foreign Ministry issued a hostile statement claiming Kosovo’s actions related to establishing an embassy in Jerusalem would violate international law as well as certain UN resolutions. Turkey also considered Kosovo’s actions “to have harmed the prospects for implementation of a two-state solution.”
Rumors also circulated early in February that Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan had made unspecified threats against Kosovo, which at that time was in the midst of a snap election campaign, without further details.
Erdogan was quoted as saying “I believe that it would be beneficial to avoid such a move that would cause great damage to Kosovo.” To most observers this diplomatically phrased statement does not quite qualify as a threat, leaving the listener to speculate. One possibility is that Turkey would use its influence to prevent Kosovo’s Turkish minority politicians and others from joining any new coalition government that might emerge or possibly demand that the Jerusalem embassy commitment needs to be voided.
Unfortunately, Erdogan – who, as a result of increasingly tense relations with the State of Israel of the last dozen years, has aligned Turkey with terrorist groups such as Hamas in the Gaza Strip and has carried out military operations against Israel’s Kurdish allies in Iraq and Syria – did not wait for a new government to be formed in Pristina.
On March 1, the leader of the largest Kosovar party after the February 14 election, Albin Kurti of the Vetevendosje, (Self-Determination) party – who had previously served a brief term as Prime Minister in 2020 – sat down with Turkey’s ambassador. A statement after the meeting revealed that the Jerusalem issue was on the agenda, noting: “The place where the embassy will be located is to be considered following checking of the documentation of the outgoing government.”
Other factors will be in play, as well. Miroslav Lajcak, the EU’s designated special envoy, visited Pristina and Belgrade on March 1-4. The main focus of his trip was to accelerate the resumption of the EU-sponsored Kosovo-Serbia dialogue, damaged somewhat when Washington aggressively stepped in during 2020 to help promote stronger economic ties between both countries.
Like the Turks, Lajcak did not wait until a new government was formed in Pristina, and the magnet of eventual EU accession guarantees that any EU official has almost immediate access to senior governing structures in Kosovo.
The EU had expressed regret when the announcement of Kosovo’s Jerusalem embassy plan became public, but it is not known how hard Lajcak pressed the Kosovars on this issue, ironically aligning the EU and Turkey’s positions, and opposing Washington.