Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with US President Donald Trump at the White House on January 28, 2020. Both leaders are facing political challenges. Photo: AFP / Mandel Ngan

The recent package deal among Israel, Kosovo and Serbia is a fine example of diplomatic window-dressing by the US, intended to shore up President Donald Trump’s sagging poll numbers.

As announced, Serbia will move its embassy to Jerusalem. The deal also stipulates that Kosovo and Israel will recognize each other and that Pristina will open an embassy in Jerusalem. If it does so, Kosovo will become the first Muslim-majority country with diplomatic representation in Jerusalem. Also, no European country currently operates an embassy in Jerusalem.

The deal already has attracted strong opposition within Israel and Serbia, and from both countries’ key partners, namely the European Union, Russia and Turkey. For this reason, it is unlikely ever to come to fruition.

Moreover, the Israel-Kosovo-Serbia deal does not merit comparison to the recent agreements between Israel and the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain. The context of those agreements was the geopolitical situation in the Middle East. Serbia’s and Kosovo’s geopolitical context and domestic politics are vastly different.

Not even a fortnight had passed since the announcement of the deal before voices at the highest levels of Belgrade’s government began to backtrack. Under present circumstances, no Serbian government will commit to any deal that grants recognition to Kosovo, which declared independence from Serbia in 2008.

The highest echelons of Serbia’s government now are stressing that Serbia will strongly oppose Israeli recognition of Kosovo. Also, Serbia’s “agreement” to shift its embassy to Jerusalem depends on Israel’s non-recognition of Kosovo.

Indeed, Kosovo is to Serbia what Jerusalem is to Israel and Palestine. It is “holy land,” deeply intertwined with Serbian nationalism and identity.

Moreover, despite winning recent elections under controversial circumstances, Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic’s domestic political position isn’t invincible. His party does not command a two-thirds majority in parliament and his principal opposition is even more stridently nationalistic than him.

In Kosovo, Prime Minister Avdullah Hoti’s majority in parliament depends on a single seat. He is unlikely to muster the two-thirds majority required to ratify any deal.

In Israel, the country’s intelligentsia and its strategic community are incensed at the Netanyahu government’s decision to accord recognition to Kosovo. Despite Kosovo having thus far received recognition as an independent state from more than 110 countries, Israel is a notable holdout.

For long, Israel has chosen to invest its diplomatic energy into maintaining good relations with Serbia. The main reason in the past for Israel to have opposed independence for Kosovo is to prevent Palestinians from getting the same idea.

Even though their circumstances differ considerably, Kosovars and Palestinians have relied on the principle of self-determination to press claims for statehood. To skeptics in Israel, what is to prevent Palestinians, or even indeed Israel’s Arab citizens, from making similar demands in the future?

Netanyahu seems to have decided to go ahead with the deal in order to package it as yet another foreign-policy achievement. Never mind that this “achievement” goes against Israel’s core national interests as articulated by his own government.

The deal, midwifed by the White House, also is unique in that it has elicited identical reactions from Kosovo’s and Serbia’s international partners, who are almost always on opposite sides of major global issues. Russia, which considers Serbia a key ally in the Balkans, has criticized the deal as having been concluded under American duress. Kosovo’s main backer, Turkey, too, has criticized the deal.

The EU is strongly opposed to countries moving their embassies to Jerusalem. Its position is that Jerusalem’s status ought to be finalized as part of a final settlement between Israel and the Palestinians.

Both Kosovo and Serbia aspire to become full members of the EU, which remains their principal trading partner and major aid donor. The EU has expressly warned Serbia and Kosovo that they could jeopardize their EU membership if they move their embassies to Jerusalem. Neither country can risk alienating the EU, particularly when they will need its support in the post-pandemic phase.

Within the EU, too, such countries as Spain and Cyprus remain steadfastly opposed to recognizing Pristina.

Leaving aside the Israel and Jerusalem bits of the deal between Kosovo and Serbia, the other parts of the arrangement also fall far short of expectations. Indeed, for long, the White House has pressured Serbia to grant recognition to Kosovo. However, such is the political toxicity of recognizing Kosovo within Serbia that Vucic said he would decline a meeting with Trump if it were on the agenda.

What the White House achieved instead was a meager statement of intent from both parties to resume economic relations, with the details to be worked out much later. In reality, the deal is a mere repetition of a blueprint prepared by the US State Department in February. What this deal achieves in reality, then, is anyone’s guess.

This points to the only obvious takeaway – that the “deal” is an attempt by the Trump administration to tout yet another foreign-policy achievement to shore up the president’s sagging poll numbers. In this, Trump was ably assisted by Netanyahu, who himself faces corruption allegations and growing public anger over his government’s handling of the Covid-19 crisis.

It remains to be seen, though, if voters in both countries fall for this elaborate charade.

This article was provided by Syndication Bureau, which holds copyright.

Dnyanesh Kamat

Dnyanesh Kamat is a political analyst who focuses on the Middle East and South Asia. He also consults on socio-economic development for government and private-sector entities. Follow him on Twitter @sybaritico.