Serbia ‘not happy’ with Israel’s recognition of Kosovo, says it will impact ties

Belgrade, which denies the statehood of former province, unhappy after investing ‘serious efforts’ in relations with Jerusalem

A Kosovo worker drags the red carpet next to Kosovo's and Israel's flags displayed during a ceremony at the headquarters of the Foreign Ministry in Pristina on February 1, 2021 (Armend NIMANI / AFP)
A Kosovo worker drags the red carpet next to Kosovo's and Israel's flags displayed during a ceremony at the headquarters of the Foreign Ministry in Pristina on February 1, 2021 (Armend NIMANI / AFP)

Serbia’s foreign minister said Tuesday the government was “not happy” with Israel’s decision to recognize Kosovo, a former Serbian province whose statehood Belgrade denies and has waged a diplomatic battle to delegitimize.

The reaction came a day after Israel and Kosovo established diplomatic ties in what was a major victory for Pristina’s efforts to gain full global recognition of the independence it declared in 2008 following a war with Serbia in the 1990s.

Kosovo has since been recognized by much of the Western world, but its rejection by Serbia’s key allies Russia and China has locked it out of the United Nations. Until Monday, Israel was another key holdout on Belgrade’s side.

Israel and Kosovo formally established diplomatic ties this week, with the Muslim-majority territory also recognizing Jerusalem as the Jewish state’s capital — putting it at odds with the rest of the Islamic world.

Nikola Selakovic speaks during a press conference in Belgrade, Serbia, March 18, 2014 (AP Photo/Darko Vojinovic)

“We have invested serious efforts in our relations with Israel in recent years and we are not happy with this decision,” Serbian Foreign Minister Nikola Selakovic said Tuesday on public broadcaster RTS.

Israel’s move will “undoubtedly influence relations between Serbia and Israel,” he added.

Since establishing ties in 1991, the countries have maintained good relations with growing Israeli investment in the Balkan state.

In a ceremony held over Zoom in Jerusalem and Pristina, Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi and his counterpart from the Republic of Kosovo, Meliza Haradinaj Stublla, on Monday signed a joint declaration establishing ties.

A Kosovo police officer walks across a red carpet prior to a ceremony held digitally, in the capital Pristina, at which Kosovo and Israel formally established diplomatic ties, February 1, 2021 (AP Photo/Visar Kryeziu)

“The establishment of relations between Israel and Kosovo is an important and moving historical step that reflects the many changes the region has experienced in recent months,” Ashkenazi said.

“Today, Kosovo officially joins the circle of countries that aspire to peace and stability and recognize Israel, and Jerusalem as its capital,” he said.

The foreign ministers signed two cooperation agreements — one to establish their diplomatic relations and the other relating to the activities of Israel’s international development agency Mashav. They will send each other copies via email, each to be signed by their counterpart, according to the Foreign Ministry.

Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi, right, unveils a sign that will be placed at the Kosovo embassy Jerusalem when it opens in the future, Jerusalem, February 1, 2021. (Courtesy)

The decision on mutual recognition between Kosovo and Israel was achieved last September at a summit of Kosovo-Serbia leaders at the White House in the presence of then-US president Donald Trump. At the meeting, Belgrade also agreed to move its embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, which it has not done so far.

When Kosovo opens its embassy in Jerusalem it will become the third country after the US and Guatemala to open an embassy in Israel’s capital. Other countries, like Honduras, have pledged to move their embassies from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem as well.

The Trump administration recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in late 2017 and moved the US embassy there in May 2018.

Israel last year inked a series of deals brokered by the Trump White House to establish diplomatic relations with the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Morocco and Sudan. The Arab parties to the historic Abraham Accords have all maintained that their diplomatic missions in Israel will be in Tel Aviv.

Kosovo had not previously recognized Israel not only because its Muslim majority was opposed to it, but also because Israel had not recognized Kosovo yet either. One reason Israel avoided doing so was that it did not want to support a unilateral declaration of statehood — which Jerusalem feared could create a dangerous precedent followed by the Palestinians.

Kosovo’s parliament declared independence from Serbia in 2008, nine years after NATO conducted a 78-day airstrike campaign against Serbia to stop a bloody crackdown against ethnic Albanians in Kosovo.

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