Another day, another Muslim-majority country recognizes Israel, but the trilateral America-Balkan-Israel deal announced Friday is even larger than that.
The deal, largely orchestrated by President Trumpís point man on Kosovo, Richard Grenell, involves three countries in three different continents. Israel announced recognition of Kosovo as an independent country, while Serbia, which to date has been one of the strongest opponents for Kosovoís independence, agreed to formalize its commercial ties with the former member of the Yugoslavian Federation.
Oh, and thereís this: Both Serbia and Kosovo will place their embassies in Jerusalem, joining a handful of countries that have done so since Mr. Trump blazed the trail in 2018, when an American mezuzah was nailed on an embassy door in the Israeli capital.
In addition to endlessly shuttling between Serbia and Kosovo, Mr. Grenell ó a former spokesman of the American mission to the Un ited Nations, our erstwhile ambassador to Germany, and acting director of national intelligence ó has long worked behind the scenes to support European politicians favoring moving the countriesí embassies from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
The larger picture underlining the deal, announced today, seems to contradict those who claim Mr. Trump is soft on the Russians. For the new deal is not one that is going to please President Putin.
By agreeing to move the embassy to Jerusalem and trading with Kosovo, Serbiaís president, Aleksandar Vucic, signals a significant move toward America and away from Moscow. Belgrade has traditionally been under Russiaís thumb. Now, says Mr. Vucic, ďwe are straightening directly our relation with.. the world largest power.Ē
Serbia is yet to officially recognize Kosovo, but is inching toward it, defying a bloc of Russian-led countries opposing independence for Kosovo. Moscow has not yet commented on the developments, but Mr. Putin, under pressure in the aftermath of poisoning a major domestic opponent, canít be happy with Mr. Vucic.
Israel has long hesitated to recognize officially Kosovo, which is not a full member of the United Nations and is recognized by but half of the world bodyís 193 UN-members. Jerusalem was concerned that such recognition would strengthen proponents of full-blown Palestinian statehood without Israelís consent.
Nevertheless, the Israeli nod, long sought by Pristina, is seen as a diplomatic victory for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who can chalk up another erosion in the global refusal to move embassies to Jerusalem. It also underscores the fact that the Palestinian issue may not be as much of a hindrance to ties with Muslim countries as the Palestinians like to claim.
Detractors say that, coming on the heels of the United Arab Emirates deal, Mr. Netanyahu is again attempting to deflect from his corruption-related legal challenges and from a widely-perceived failure in handling the Coronavirus epidemic. In the long run, though, opening relations with Arab and Muslim countries is a major boon for Israel economically and diplomatically.
Meanwhile, the European Union, long disunited over Balkan issues and, specifically, the recognition of Kosovo, emerges as the weakest player in its own backyard, while America and the Trump administration is playing a decisive role.
In January, after conducting intensive shuttle diplomacy between capitals, Mr. Grenell brokered a deal that for the first time established direct flights between Serbia and Kosovo, a feat escaping EU diplomats. Now he has helped to orchestrate a diplomatic breakthrough that enhances Americaís prestige.
Meanwhile Mr. Trumpís uncompromising support of Israel, long criticized as one-sided and a hindrance to peace, bears fruit. The unapologetic Washington-Jerusalem alliance proves a major factor in a diplomatic coup that promotes peace in a part of Europe known as the place where world wars start.