There is more good news for Jerusalem on the diplomatic front. On September 4, Serbia announced that it was moving its embassy in Israel to Jerusalem. And on the same day, Muslim-majority Kosovo announced that it would not only be establishing diplomatic relations with Israel, but according to Kosovo’s President Hashim Thaci, will be placing its embassy in Jerusalem. This will make Kosovo the first Muslim-majority country to have its embassy to Israel in Jerusalem.
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Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Friday [September 4] that not only would Kosovo recognize Israel but it would open an embassy in Jerusalem, becoming the first Muslim-majority nation to do so.
Earlier Friday, Serbia announced that it would move its embassy to Jerusalem. The moves come as part of US-brokered discussions to normalize economic ties between Belgrade and Pristina.
After two days of meetings with Trump administration officials, Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic and Kosovo’s Prime Minister Avdullah Hoti agreed to cooperate on a range of economic fronts to attract investment and create jobs. The White House announcement provided US President Donald Trump with a diplomatic win ahead of the November presidential election and furthers his administration’s push to improve Israel’s international standing.
Netanyahu hailed the moves and said Israel would establish diplomatic relations with Kosovo.
A statement from Netanyahu’s office said that during a meeting between Trump and Hoti, the president called Netanyahu and congratulated the two leaders on the decision to establish full diplomatic relations.
According to the statement, Hoti also announced that he would open an embassy in Jerusalem.
“Kosovo will be the first Muslim-majority nation to open an embassy in Jerusalem. As I said in recent days the circle of peace is expanding and more nations are expected to join,” Netanyahu said.
Kosovo President Hashim Thaci confirmed Pristina’s intention, saying he welcomed Netanyahu’s announcement “about the genuine intention to recognize Kosovo and establish diplomatic relations.”
“Kosovo will keep its promise to place its diplomatic mission in Jerusalem,” he tweeted.
Trump said Serbia has committed to open a commercial office in Jerusalem this month and move its embassy there in July.
Trump later tweeted “Another great day for peace with Middle East – Muslim-majority Kosovo and Israel have agreed to normalize ties and establish diplomatic relations. Well-done! More Islamic and Arab nations will follow soon!”
After the UAE not only angrily rejected all criticism by the Palestinians of its normalization agreement with Israel, but went on the offensive, by hastening to engage in bilateral talks with Israel about investments, and cooperation in technology, trade, and tourism, the Palestinians were reeling. Every day seems to bring fresh news of another positive development in Emirati-Israel relations. The Palestinians had expected mass demonstrations in Arab capitals against the UAE. Instead, there was nothing in Cairo, Amman, Baghdad, Beirut, Tunis, or Algiers, and only a handful of Palestinian demonstrators, defacing images of the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and stomping on the UAE flag, in Gaza and the West Bank. The other Arabs refused to call an emergency meeting of the Arab League to discuss the UAE’s “betrayal,” as demanded by Mahmoud Abbas; what’s more, Bahrain – the host of the next Arab League meeting – has refused to allow any discussions of the matter on the sidelines of the next regularly-scheduled meeting of the Arab League in mid-September. Not only has the UAE move been publicly approved by several other Arab states, but there are now reports that Arab states have been pressuring the Palestinians to accept the Trump Plan. It’s an extraordinary development, which must make the Palestinians frantic with despair. Their leading negotiator, Saeb Erekat, appears to be bailing – he’s accepted a year-long fellowship at Harvard’s Kennedy School.
And on top of all that, there is this to bedevil Mahmoud Abbas: two more countries will now have their Israel embassies in Jerusalem, and one of those states is Muslim-majority Kosovo. Each such move makes it easier for another country, and then another, to follow suit. Because Guatemala moved its embassy to Jerusalem, now neighboring Honduras has been suggesting it will go and do likewise. Also in Latin America, Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro, both before and after he was elected, promised to move Brazil’s embassy to Jerusalem; in late 2019 his son Eduardo, in Jerusalem, reiterated that the move would take place in 2020: “It’s not something extraordinary. It’s supposed to be a natural and normal thing,” he said. “We want to move to Jerusalem not just for Brazil, but to set an example for all of Latin America.” His father is close to Brazil’s rising number of evangelicals, who are stout supporters of the Jewish state. Brazil is surely on the short list of countries that this year may be moving their embassies in Israel.
In 2018, Paraguay moved its embassy to Jerusalem and then, three months later, moved it back to Tel Aviv, with Foreign Minister Luis Alberto Castiglioni declaring: “One of the most complex components of the conflict (between Israel and the Palestinians) is the status of Jerusalem.” He didn’t want Paraguay to be seen as taking sides, but of course, in moving the embassy back to Tel Aviv, that’s exactly what he did. It’s unclear if the Paraguayans might change their minds yet again, if Honduras and Brazil go through with their own promises to move their embassies.
Because of the two Balkan states, Serbia and Kosovo, placing their embassies in Jerusalem, it now becomes easier for their neighbor Romania to follow suit. In March last year, the Romanian Prime Minister, Viorica Dăncilă, announced that the embassy would be moved, only to be contradicted by the Romanian President, who would be the one making the final decision. After that debacle, Dăncilă again reiterated that she would not give up on moving the embassy: “My word is my word. There is no change in policy.” And many in Romania support her. But President Klaus Iohannis, who in 2019 opposed moving the embassy to Jerusalem, is still in power. It remains to be seen if, as many in Romania hope, he changes his mind.
Other countries mentioned as possible candidates to move their embassies are Costa Rica and El Salvador. For 22 years, between 1984 and 2006, both countries had their embassies in Jerusalem, but in 2006 Costa Rica’s president Oscar Arias said it was necessary to move the country’s embassy back to Tel Aviv for the sake of good relations with the Arab countries; El Salvador then did the same. Now that a leading Arab state, the UAE, has normalized relations with Israel, and a Muslim-majority state, Kosovo, will have its embassy in Jerusalem, the time might be right for both Costa Rica and El Salvador to return to the policy they observed for 22 years, and move their embassies, yet again, from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
In India, there is strong support in the Hindu nationalist BJP for moving the Indian embassy in Israel to Jerusalem; tens of thousands of Hindus have turned out for rallies demanding that it be done. But so far the government of Narendra Modi has not endorsed such a policy. The calculation is simple: India simply has too many Muslims who might erupt in fury. But on the other hand, Israel has become a major weapons supplier to India, cooperates with India on cybersecurity, shares its agricultural advances with Indian farmers, and has a worldview similar to that of the current Indian government. Modi showed in his bold move in Kashmir, where he stripped the region of its special status – its autonomy – and encouraged the mass movement of Hindus into Kashmir to dilute the Muslim majority, that he is willing to ride out the anger of the Muslims. Perhaps this will cause him to reconsider his earlier reluctance to move the embassy to Jerusalem.
Moldova is another country that has long been in on-again off-again talks with Israel about moving its embassy to Jerusalem. So far nothing has resulted, but now, with Serbia and Kosovo having taken the lead among European nations, their neighbor Moldova – as with Romania –might be willing to follow suit.
The Philippines has a close security relationship with Israel, which has given it, according to President Duterte, “very substantial and critical” assistance which was “an important help to preserve the republic.” He is referring to Israel’s help in suppressing the Abu Sayyaf terror group. In the past, the Philippines has been mentioned as considering moving its embassy, but nothing came of it. It’s unclear where things stand now.
Then there is Vietnam, a leading trading partner with Israel. Israel has trained Vietnamese in robotics and artificial intelligence. Israel has been especially important to Vietnamese farmers, introducing its latest advances in irrigation and smart greenhouses. Israel is the second most important supplier of weapons to Vietnam. All of this suggests that Vietnam could be a possible candidate for moving its embassy to Jerusalem.
So here’s my list of ten countries that by the end of the year may announce they are moving their embassies in Israel to Jerusalem: Honduras, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Brazil, Paraguay, Romania, and Moldova are in the first rank. Then come the dark horses: Malawi, India, the Philippines, Vietnam. Let’s see how many of these will join the U.S., Guatemala, Serbia, and Kosovo in doing the right thing.