(September 16, 2020 / JNS) It’s easy to miss all of the announcements coming out right now by countries normalizing relations with Israel. But even more intriguing was the announcement last week that Serbia and Kosovo planned to establish their embassies in Israel’s capital—much to the consternation of the European Union.
Kosovo would be the first Muslim-majority nation to do so, but that’s not the part that intrigues Israelis. Since announcing its independence from Serbia in 2008, Kosovo has shown an interest in establishing ties with the Jewish state, but Israel has always politely declined the relationship out of fear the Palestinians would copy Kosovo and unilaterally declare independence. The line of thought was always that if Israel recognized unilaterally independent Kosovo, it would need to recognize a unilaterally independent Palestine.
Oded Eran, Israel’s former Ambassador to the European Union and currently a senior research fellow at the Institute for National Security Studies, told JNS that he believes Israel was right to stay away from the conflicts in the Balkans.
“There is a sad record as to the situation of the Jews generally speaking in World War II, and there is a mixed record of behavior in what are today the states in the region,” he said. “Given the ethnic, political, territorial, irredentist complexities of the situation there, it was wise to stay away and avoid making judgments over who is right and wrong.”
Eran questioned the wisdom of the U.S. administration to tie Serbia and Kosovo to Israel, and whether the two countries could even follow up on their promise to move their embassies to Jerusalem.
The European Union warned Serbia and Kosovo that they could undermine their E.U. membership hopes by moving their Israeli embassies to Jerusalem.
“There is no E.U. member state with an embassy in Jerusalem,” said European Commission spokesman Peter Stano. “Any diplomatic steps that could call into question the E.U.’s common position on Jerusalem are a matter of serious concern and regret.”
“I have doubts whether either of them would follow up on the commitment, and I am not sure what the legal status is,” Eran said.
‘Running rogue, using Kosovo as their model’
Dan Diker, director of the Political Warfare Project at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, said he thinks the Kosovo story “is really a dramatic play.”
He outlined what he called the “Kosovo Strategy” adopted by the Palestinians and by which they hoped to gain independence in the same fashion.
“Palestinians talked about the Kosovo strategy 10 years ago, running rogue to the U.N. and bypassing Israel, asserting they would seek recognition on the 1967 lines in total violation of the Oslo Accords,” Diker told JNS. “They were running rogue, using Kosovo as their model.”
“The Palestinians won U.N. General Assembly support in 2012 when the world body upgraded the Palestinians’ status to a non-member state,” he said. “The ‘Kosovo Strategy’ was working.”
Some in the international community have slammed Israel for entertaining the idea of unilaterally applying sovereignty to parts of Judea and Samaria, and the Jordan Valley.
But, according to Diker, this is hypocritical since the Palestinians “had adopted the ‘Kosovo Strategy’ in total violation” of the 1993 Oslo Accords. “The world supported and guaranteed it,” he said.
Part of the problem, according to Diker, is that Israel did not understand that the Palestinians had adopted this strategy.
Second, when Kosovo declared independence in 2008, Israel miscalculated, siding with the Christian Serbs instead. Serbia ended up with the unique honor of being the only country in the Western Balkans to support the Palestinian bid for upgraded observer status at the United Nations.
Today, both Kosovo and Serbia want to join the European Union as they desperately need the economic benefits that come along with membership. But the European Union is holding their membership status hostage, threatening both countries against moving their embassies to Jerusalem.
It sees this as “everything or nothing,” said Diker, and in doing so, “less-than-stellar bureaucrats running the E.U. do not represent their national interests.”
Is the European Union operating in the diplomatic world of the past?
The United Arab Emirates officially signed a normalization agreement with Israel and Bahrain piggybacked, signing a peace deal with Israel. Malawi announced that it will establish an embassy in Jerusalem—the first African nation to do so. Honduras also aims to move its embassy to Jerusalem, and Oman, Sudan and Morocco could be next.
But now, Serbia and Kosovo are under pressure from the European Union to refrain from making such bold moves.
According to Eran, since Serbia is already a candidate state and in the process of becoming a member of the European Union, if faced with the need to make a decision, “I have no doubt where the decision will go,” he said.
So will Serbia and Kosovo actually end up situating their embassies in Jerusalem?
“I place Serbia and Kosovo in front of a big question mark,” said Eran. “I have a big question whether this is going to happen.”
But if the two countries establish embassies in western Jerusalem, which is not officially contested by the Palestinians and which is inside the 1949 armistice lines (aka the 1967 lines), then why is this controversial?
Eran said he “agrees the question is valid” and acknowledged that E.U. officials do indeed go to Jerusalem, Israel’s capital, to meet with their Israeli counterparts.
According to Eran, the Europeans insist they “are not going to recognize any changes to the status quo regarding territory,” and that “the position of the E.U. remains that there are no unilateral changes to the ’67 lines” but it still does not clarify where the difficulty lies.
Can Serbia and Kosovo open an embassy in western Jerusalem? Would this preclude any decision regarding eastern Jerusalem?
That question remains unanswered.
Diker acknowledged that the European Union demonstrates some level of bias against Israel, as it has threatened both Serbia and Kosovo against moving their embassies to Jerusalem.
“It makes it look like an anti-peace body that is way behind the UAE, Bahrain and others who recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital,” said Diker. “It really makes the E.U. look foolish.”
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