Israel and Kosovo officially established diplomatic relations in a ceremony held via Zoom video conference on Monday.
It likely was the first ceremony of its kind in the world, the Foreign Ministry said. Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi signed three agreements, which the ministry scanned and sent to his Kosovar counterpart, Meliza Haradinaj-Stublla, to sign.
Before the ceremony, Haradinaj-Stublla submitted a formal request to open an embassy in Jerusalem, which Ashkenazi accepted.
“I hope to open the embassy soon with you,” Ashkenazi said. He later presented a plaque to be installed on the future Kosovar Embassy in Jerusalem, which is expected to open in March.
Ashkenazi touted the “warm and friendly relationship” between Kosovo and Israel. Kosovo is another Muslim-majority country that has established relations with Israel in the past year, he said.
Haradinaj-Stublla was joined in Pristina, Kosovo’s capital, by representatives from the Kosovar Jewish community. She lauded this “historic achievement that brings joy to the people of Kosovo and the Jewish people.”
Also at the ceremony in Pristina were the families of two Kosovars who saved Jews during the Holocaust and are recognized by Yad Vashem as Righteous Among the Nations.
Haradinaj-Stublla cited those families, as well as Israel accepting refugees from Kosovo in 1999, as examples of the strong relationship between the countries.
“Kosovo waited for a long time to establish relations with Israel,” she said.
The foreign ministers signed three agreements: a joint communiqué on the establishment of diplomatic relations and two memoranda of understanding on diplomatic consultations between the foreign ministers and on development cooperation via the Foreign Ministry’s Agency for International Development Cooperation (MASHAV).
Israel does not have immediate plans to open an embassy in Pristina and will have a nonresident ambassador to Kosovo.
Both ministers thanked the US for helping push these agreements forward, as these new ties were part of the Serbia and Kosovo economic agreement negotiated by former US president Donald Trump’s envoy to the region, Richard Grenell. Both countries are supposed to open embassies in Jerusalem, though Serbia already has one in Tel Aviv.
Kosovo would be the first Muslim-majority country to have its first embassy in Israel located in Jerusalem and together with Serbia would be the first European countries to do so. To date, only the US and Guatemala have embassies in Jerusalem. Most countries have their embassies in the Tel Aviv area.
Several American representatives took part in the ceremony, including from the State Department and the US embassies in Israel and Kosovo.
“Congratulations to Israel and Kosovo for formally establishing diplomatic relations – a historic day,” State Department spokesperson Ned Price tweeted. “When our partners are united, the United States is stronger. Deeper international ties help further peace and stability in the Balkans and Middle East.”
With these new relations, Israel has become the 117th country to formally recognize the independence of Kosovo, though more than a dozen countries have since retracted that recognition.
Kosovo has long battled for recognition since it declared its independence from Serbia in 2008.
A source close to the Serbian government expressed disappointment at Israel’s recognition of Kosovo.
“Israel has been forced to do something that it never wanted to do,” the source said. “Despite constant pressure, Israel hasn’t recognized Kosovo for 12 years for two reasons. Not only is there a genuine bond between the Serbian and Jewish peoples, established through history and joint suffering, recognizing Kosovo’s unilateral attempt to secede was never in Israel’s interests.”
Recognizing Kosovo as a state “establishes a dangerous precedent for Israel’s core interests in the Middle East,” the Serbian source said. Israel had previously avoided doing so because it could set a precedent for the Palestinian Authority unilaterally declaring statehood.
“The establishment of diplomatic relations with Kosovo harms Serbia’s dear friend Israel as much as it does Serbia itself,” the source added.
Aaron Reich contributed to this report.