By Sasa Dragojlo
Israel’s ambassador in Belgrade, Yahel Vilan, has drawn strong criticism in Serbia over an interview on Wednesday on TV Prva, when he addressed the hot topic of his country’s recognition of Kosovo.
Vilan insisted Israel had only recognised Serbia’s former province under US pressure, adding that it all came about as a result of the US-brokered Washington agreement, signed in September 2020 by Serbia and Kosovo.
“Israel’s decision to recognise Kosovo was made under American pressure. [But] By the way, let’s not forget that this was done within the framework of the [Wshington] agreement between Serbia and Kosovo, especially with America, and not with us, with Israel,” he said.
Serbia’s Foreign Minister Nikola Selakovic dismissed the suggestion that Serbia had, in effect, brought this about by signing the Washington deal and so implicitly recognising Kosovo itself.
“What the Israeli ambassador in Belgrade said is not true, and it is a kind of rudeness,” Selakovic told TV Prva the same day.
Holding the Washington deal documents in front of the TV camera, the minister stressed that the leaders from Belgrade and Pristina signed different documents, emphasising that only the document signed by Kosovo states: “Pristina and Israel agree to recognise each other.”
“Israel succumbed to [US] pressures that our [Serbian] President did not,” the minister added.
Selakovic also warned that the relocation of the Serbian embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, which formed part of the Washington deal, was now unlikely to happen, “after the Israeli recognition of Kosovo”.
Yilan later reacted to Selakovic’s criticism, claiming he never suggested in his interview that Serbia had somehow recognised Kosovo via the Washington deal.
“I have never said, nor do I believe, nor do I have reason to say, that Serbia signed anything with Kosovo. I stated that in Washington, Serbia signed an agreement with the United States and that Kosovo signed an agreement with the United States. I did not state that Serbia recognised Kosovo,” Vilan told reporters.
Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic and former Kosovo prime minister Avdullah Hoti in September 2020 in Washington – under the supervision of former US president Trump – signed two different documents, mainly on boosting economic cooperation.
Surprisingly, however, both documents contained provisions concerning diplomatic relations with Israel, in what was widely seen as a confusing concession to other US political interests.
Serbia agreed to open a Chamber of Commerce and a state office in Jerusalem and to transfer its embassy to Jerusalem by July 1, 2021. However, the final point in the document signed by Kosovo’s former PM also said that Israel and Kosovo would mutually recognise each other.
Israeli recognition was an important win for Kosovo, which remains diplomatically partly isolated. Serbia has vowed never to recognise its former province as a state and has used its allies to prevent Kosovo from joining the UN and various other international organisations.