Serbia and Kosovo’s decision to set up embassies in Jerusalem has opened a fresh rift between Israel and the European Union, which faces accusations of pressuring Balkan states into adopting its foreign policy even though they may never be allowed to join the club.
Serbia and Kosovo made the surprise announcement alongside President Donald Trump last week, granting a major diplomatic coup to Israel, which regards the city as its undivided capital.
But EU officials have reacted to the deal with “serious concern” and have strongly implied that neither country would be allowed to become member states if they pushed ahead with the decision, which in effect would recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.
The EU’s longstanding foreign policy is that the status of Jerusalem, which is claimed by both Israel and the Palestinians as their capital, should be decided between them as part of a wider peace agreement.
Professor Eugene Kontorovich, the head of international law at Israel’s Kohelet Policy Forum, said he believed the Balkan states took the decision as they were frustrated with the slow pace of EU accession talks and suspect membership may never be granted.
“For a long time, the EU has used the very distant carrot of potential membership and financial benefits as a way of inducing Balkan countries to fall in line and adopt European policy decisions on a wide range of issues,” he said.
“I think more and more countries are figuring out they are never getting the membership – it’s going to be a perpetual carrot.”
EU accession is a longstanding goal of both Kosovo and Serbia, but the process has faltered due to ongoing tensions between the two countries, which have lingered since the end of the Kosovo War in 1999.
However, a key aspect of the Trump deal was normalising economic ties between Serbia and Kosovo, a gesture which may help to ease those tensions and unblock the talks on joining the EU.
Israeli officials were delighted by the announcement, which was secured by President Donald Trump in the hopes of burnishing his foreign policy credentials ahead of the November election.
But the Telegraph understands that Israel was infuriated by the EU response, which it regarded as an attempt to bully nations into following its foreign policy even though they may never be allowed to become member states.
A correspondent for Israel Hayom, the country’s largest newspaper, went further and claimed the EU was showing “blatant and ongoing hostility” towards Israel in a furious opinion piece.
For his part, President Trump controversially recognised Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in 2017 and moved the US embassy to the holy city the following year.
However, Serbia has already sought to play down the announcement, with foreign minister Ivica Dačić stressing that the final decision had not yet been discussed, and that it would depend on a “number of factors.”
Meanwhile, a video of the moment the accord was announced by President Trump in the White House showed Serbia’s prime minister, Aleksandar Vučić, looking confused – as if he had only just realised he was making the commitment on embassies.
Reacting to the signing ceremony earlier this week, the EU’s foreign affairs spokesman, Peter Stano, expressed his “serious concern and regret” over the move.
“There is no EU member state with an embassy in Jerusalem,” he said. “Any diplomatic steps that could call into question the EU’s common position on Jerusalem are a matter of serious concern and regret.”
Palestinian leaders have also reacted with anger to the US-brokered deal, warning that they had become “a victim of the electoral ambitions of President Trump.”
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