JERUSALEM: Israel’s Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi signs a joint declaration establishing ties with Kosovo during an official ceremony held over Zoom with his counterpart from Kosovo Meliza Haradinaj Stublla (screen) at the Israeli foreign ministry yesterday. – AFP

JERUSALEM: Israel and Kosovo established diplomatic ties yesterday, with the Muslim-majority territory recognizing Jerusalem as the Jewish state’s capital, putting it at odds with the rest of the Islamic world. Israel has since August normalized ties with four Arab states under a series of deals brokered by former US president Donald Trump, collectively known as the Abraham Accords.

But the majority-Muslim parties to those accords – the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Morocco and Sudan – have all said their diplomatic missions will be in Tel Aviv, in line with global consensus against recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital until the Palestinian conflict is resolved.

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In exchange for setting up its mission in Jerusalem, Kosovo gets recognition from Israel, as it seeks to further legitimize its 2008 declaration of independence from its former war foe Serbia. Because of coronavirus restrictions, officials yesterday signed joint declarations separately in Jerusalem and Pristina. Israel’s Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi said the ceremony marked “the first time in history that diplomatic relationship are being established over Zoom”. He added he had approved Kosovo’s “formal request to open an embassy in Jerusalem”.

Kosovo’s top diplomat, Meliza Haradinaj-Stublla, thanked Israel for becoming the 117th country to recognize its independence, joining much of the Western world. China, Russia and five European Union members have not granted recognition to Kosovo. “Kosovo has waited for a very long time to establish diplomatic relations with Israel,” Haradinaj-Stublla said. “We mark a new chapter in the historical bond between our two countries who have witnessed a long and challenging path to existing as a people and to becoming states,” she added.

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Haradinaj-Stublla also thanked Trump, who announced in Dec 2017 that Washington would move its Israeli embassy to Jerusalem. Trump’s successor, President Joe Biden, has said he does not intend to reverse the move. But Biden’s presidential campaign indicated his administration would seek to reopen a mission in east Jerusalem to engage the Palestinians, who consider the eastern part of the city as the capital of their future state.

In September, Trump announced at a summit originally organized to strike a deal between Kosovo and Serbia that Kosovo and the Jewish state would establish diplomatic ties. But the most standout part of the summit was an announcement by Kosovo that it would mutually recognize Israel, and Serbia saying it would follow Washington’s lead in moving its embassy to Jerusalem.

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So far, however, Serbia has failed to honor its pledge, with some officials claiming the deal was non-binding. Ashkenazi said Israel was committed to working towards a “stable Balkans”, but yesterday’s ceremony could have diplomatic consequences. Briefing journalists this week, the head of the Balkans division at Israel’s foreign ministry, Dan Oryan, said recognition of Kosovo causes the Serbs significant “pain”.

In one of Europe’s most intractable disputes, Serbia has refused to recognize Kosovo’s declaration of independence since the province broke away in the bloody 1998-99 war that was ended only by a NATO bombing campaign against Serb troops. More than 13,000 people died in the war, mostly Kosovo Albanians, who form a majority in the former province. The two sides have been in EU-led talks for a decade to normalize their relationship, but little progress has been made. – AFP

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