Both Serbia and Muslim-majority Kosovo announced that they will open embassies in Jerusalem, making them the third and fourth countries to follow America's lead in recognizing Israel's capital city.
In a monumental agreement brokered by the United States between Serbia and Kosovo, Serbia announced on Friday it would move its Israeli embassy to Jerusalem. And Israel and Kosovo agreed to mutual recognition which Kosovo announced it will also open an embassy in Jerusalem.
Israel has long balked in recognizing the breakaway republic of Kosovo, hesitant that a declaration of unilateral independence by an ethnic group could be used by the Palestinians as a legal precedent in declaring their own state.
“Israel did not want to endorse a move of separatism by an ethnic minority,” said Yigal Palmor, who served in Israel’s Foreign Ministry at the time of Kosovo’s independence.
But Kosovo - and Kosovo's President Hashim Thaçi - have been courting Israel for more than a decade.
“I love Israel. What a great country. Kosovo is a friend of Israel,” Thaci told JTA in 2007. “I met so many great leaders when I was there – (Prime Minister Benjamin) Netanyahu, (late Prime Minister Ariel) Sharon — I really admire them.”
Then in 2018, the Kosovo Press agency reported that Thaçi told the a news show, “If Kosovo were recognized by Israel, I would place the Kosovo embassy in Jerusalem.”
On Friday, Thaçi got his wish.
“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,” he wrote on Twitter.
Netanyahu confirmed the news on Friday.
"As I have said in recent days - the circle of peace and recognition of Israel is expanding and more countries are expected to join it," Netanyahu said referring to the U.S. brokered peace deal between Israel and the United Arab Emirates in August.
U.S. President Donald Trump made the stunning announcement about Serbia and Kosovo on Friday night after the two agreed to normalize economic ties with each other, a “major breakthrough” since Kosovo declared independence from Serbia in 2008.
The agreement included the embassy moves to Jerusalem, which Israel welcomed as Shabbat began.
"I thank my friend the President of Serbia Wojciech for the decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and move his country's embassy to it," Netanyahu said. "I would also like to thank my friend President Trump for his contribution to this achievement.”
The U.S. moved its embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem in 2018 and was followed by Guatemala shortly after. Since then, several nations have opened trade missions in Jerusalem with the intention of eventually converting those into embassies, however, most embassies remain in Tel Aviv.
"The mutual recognition between Kosovo and Israel is a historic achievement. As I await the opening of our embassy in Jerusalem, I am thankful to the United States for facilitating… a strong partnership between two sovereign countries," Thaçi told Israel Hayom. "The people of Kosovo and Israel have forged ties that cannot be broken… Therefore, I believe that today [Friday] is only the continuation of a longstanding friendship between the two countries."
Serbia was the second country in Europe to recognize Israel in 1948 and will become the first European nation to move its embassy to Jerusalem and recognize the city as Israel’s capital.
The deal between Serbia and Kosovo is another notch in Trump’s foreign policy belt, coming just three weeks after the president announced the Israel-UAE agreement.
“Another breakthrough, another Muslim country normalizing ties with Israel,” Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations, Gilad Erdan, said in a statement. “After the UAE and Kosovo, I believe more Muslim and Arab states will opt for peace, leaving the Palestinians isolated. Perhaps this will convince future Palestinian leaders to make concessions for peace.”
The Palestinian Authority, which rejected Trump's proposed peace plan and the relocation of the American embassy to Jerusalem, called on both countries to backtrack.
"Palestine has become a victim of the electoral ambitions of President Trump, whose team would take any action, no matter how destructive for peace and a rules-based world order, to achieve his re-election," Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erakat said on Twitter in response to the Serbia-Kosovo announcements. "This, just like the UAE-Israel agreement, isn’t about Middle East Peace."
The agreement between Serbia and Kosovo is significant, but many differences remain, Serbian President Aleksander Vucic told reporters at the White House on Friday. However, Kosovo Prime Minister Avdullah Hoti believes this step will lead to mutual recognition between the two countries.
Nicole Jansezian is the news editor for both ALL ISRAEL NEWS and ALL ARAB NEWS and senior correspondent for ALL ISRAEL NEWS