Kosovo, Serbia to formalize ties with Israel, open JLM embassy

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To date, only the US and Guatemala have embassies in Jerusalem. Most countries have chosen to place their embassies in the Tel Aviv area.

U.S. President Donald Trump speaks during a meeting with Serbia's President Aleksandar Vucic and Kosovo's Prime Minister Avdullah Hoti at the White House in Washington, U.S., September 4, 2020 (photo credit: REUTERS/LEAH MILLIS)

U.S. President Donald Trump speaks during a meeting with Serbia’s President Aleksandar Vucic and Kosovo’s Prime Minister Avdullah Hoti at the White House in Washington, U.S., September 4, 2020

(photo credit: REUTERS/LEAH MILLIS)

Kosovo intends to establish diplomatic ties with Israel and both that Balkan-Muslim majority nation as well as Serbia plan to open embassies in Jerusalem.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu welcomed both historic announcements, which were made by US President Donald Trump from the White House’s Oval Office on Friday, during a meeting to establish normalized economic ties between Serbia and Kosovo.

Trump, Netanyahu and Israeli officials placed the announcements with regard to Israel within the larger US-brokered efforts both for Israeli-Arab peace and to pave the way for international recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

To date, only the US and Guatemala have embassies in Jerusalem. Most countries have chosen to place their embassies in the Tel Aviv area.

“Kosovo will be the first Muslim-majority country to open an embassy in Jerusalem.  As I said during the last days, the circle of peace and recognition of Israel is expanding with more countries expected to join,” Netanyahu said.

Trump called Netanyahu, during a meeting with Kosovo Prime Minister Avdullah Hoti, to congratulate both leaders on the decision to establish diplomatic relations.

Kosovo President Hashim Thaci later tweeted, “I welcome the announcement of Israeli PM @netanyahu about the genuine intention to recognize #Kosovo and establish diplomatic relations. Kosovo will keep its promise to place its diplomatic mission in #Jerusalem,” Thaci wrote.

With regard to Serbia, Netanyahu said: “I thank my friend the Serbian President [Aleksandar] Vucic for the decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and to transfer to his country’s embassy. I would like to thank my friend, President Trump, for his contribution to this achievement. We will continue efforts so that additional European countries will transfer their embassies to Jerusalem.”

Both Kosovo and Serbia would be the first European countries to open embassies in Jerusalem. Serbia is not a member of the European Union and thus is not bound by the same policy considerations as the 27 members of the EU, but it is in the process of becoming a member state. Kosovo would also like to join the EU and is viewed as a potential candidate for accession.

Most of the international community, including the EU, does not formally recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, holding that such recognition should come only as part of a two-state resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in which east Jerusalem would be the capital of a future Palestinian state.

Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi called on all countries to follow Serbia and Kosovo’s example by opening embassies in Jerusalem.

“The city of Jerusalem, the eternal capital of the State of Israel, will be a bridge of peace to the entire world. I call on other countries to follow in their footsteps [of Serbia and Kosovo] and move their embassies to Jerusalem, the capital of Israel.”

Ashkenazi thanked Trump and his administration for their peace making efforts.

“The US administration continues to lead to significant diplomatic breakthroughs, both in our relations with Serbia and Kosovo, as well as the promotion of normalization and the historic peace agreement between Israel and the United Arab Emirates. Israel has no more important ally than the United States.”

Israel’s ambassador to the UN Gilad Erdan also praised the diplomatic advancements, which came just weeks after the historic announcement that Israel and the U.A.E. would normalize ties.

“Another breakthrough, another Muslim country normalizing ties with Israel. After the UAE & Kosovo, I believe more Muslim & Arab states will opt for peace, leaving the Palestinians isolated. Perhaps this will convince future Palestinian leaders to make concessions for peace,” Erdan tweeted.

“I congratulate Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Trump on this great achievement. Serbia and Kosovo will now open embassies in Jerusalem, following in America’s footsteps, and paving the way for more countries,” he added.

At the Oval Office on Friday, Trump also linked peace-making between Serbia and Kosovo, with his efforts to normalize ties between Israel and its Arab neighbors.

“We’ve also made additional progress on reaching peace in the Middle East. I will say that Kosovo and Israel have agreed to normalization of ties and the establishment of diplomatic relations. The agreement we made with UAE [and Israel] has been incredible,” Trump said.

He added: “We have other countries in the Middle East coming very much to us and saying, like, “When do we go? When can we sign?” I think we’re going to have great peace in the Middle East. And nobody has been able to say that for a long time,” he said.

In Washington Serbian President Aleksander Vucic told reporters there were still many differences between Serbia and its former province of Kosovo, which declared independence in 2008, but said Friday’s agreement marked a huge step forward.

He later told Serbian media that Serbia’s agreement was with the US, not Kosovo.

Hoti also welcomed the measures, and said they should lead to mutual recognition between the two countries, the key issue dividing them.

“Serbia and Kosovo have each committed to economic normalization,” Trump said.

Political analysts called the agreement underwhelming and hazy, however.

“In my mind this is more of a resumption of dialog between the two sides. That’s good for the region. But it’s not like some massive, massive breakthrough,” said Jasmin Mujanovic, a political scientist who specializes in Eastern Europe.

“It’s mostly vague. It’s not even clear on the economic stuff,” said Edward Joseph, a senior fellow with Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Study.

Trump, who is running for re-election in November, is seeking to play up his deal-making skills on the international stage.

Friday’s events, which came after two days of talks among the leaders and senior Trump aides, was originally scheduled to take place in the White House’s Roosevelt Room, with two tables set up for the leaders to sit at. It was abruptly moved to the Oval Office, with Trump’s desk between the two tables.

The Serbian and Kosovo leaders appeared to sign separate documents, not one. Trump, meanwhile, signed letters acknowledging that the two countries would work together.

Ethnic Albanian-majority Kosovo, which is predominantly Muslim, declared its independence from Serbia in 2008 after a 1999 NATO-led bombing campaign in which the US took part, to curb a war ignited by years of repressive Serbian rule and to stop ethnic cleansing by Belgrade.

Serbia, backed by its traditional Slavic and Orthodox Christian ally Russia, has refused to recognize Kosovo’s independence, a precondition for Belgrade’s membership in the European Union.

National security adviser Robert O’Brien told reporters that expanded economic ties, increased border crossings and mutual recognition of professional licenses could pave the way for political solutions in the future.

He said the deal would also lead to increased US investment but gave no details.

Reuters contributed to this report.

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