In a stunning reversal of policy last week, Israel yielded to American pressure and formally recognized the Serbian province of Kosovo as an independent state.
While much of the media greeted this development with excitement and even a bit of glee, we shouldn't allow ourselves to be fooled into thinking that it was a wise decision. It most assuredly was not. By recognizing Kosovo, Israel has committed a major Balkan blunder, one that is not only an affront to history, justice and common sense, but which also undermines the Jewish state's own national interests and is likely to boomerang against us.
The move was first announced on September 4 by US President Donald Trump in the Oval Office in the presence of Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic as well as Avdullah Hoti, the self-styled Prime Minister of Kosovo, during the signing of an economic normalization agreement.
It marked a sharp U-turn in the Israeli position. For more than 12 years, ever since Kosovo illegally and unilaterally declared that it was seceding from Serbia on February 17, 2008, Israel had refused to back an independent Kosovo out of principle, and with good reason.
To begin with, Kosovo is part and parcel of Serbia, both legally and constitutionally. To countenance its secession is to interfere in the internal affairs of another country, which is rarely a prudent step. How much more so is this the case in the Balkans, where border disputes, ethnic tensions and complex historical processes only further complicate the situation.
To fully comprehend the sensitivity of the matter, just consider how important the Kosovo issue is to Belgrade, with whom Israel has been cultivating increasingly warm relations in recent years.
Put simply, Kosovo is to Serbs what Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria are to Jews: the cradle of the nation, the place where it all began.
Over 800 years ago, Kosovo was the heartland of Serbia, and it served as its cultural, spiritual and administrative center until the fateful Battle of Kosovo Polje in 1389, when the Ottoman Turks defeated the Serbs and their allies.
Eventually, Albanian migrants displaced the Serbian residents of the area, and they now constitute the overwhelming majority of Kosovo's population. But the province's territory is dotted with ancient Serbian churches, monasteries and monuments. For Serbs, forgoing Kosovo would be akin to carving out their collective beating heart, a central organ that is vital to their national heritage and identity.
Hence, even though Serbia agreed at the White House to boost economic cooperation with Kosovo, they firmly refused to accede to its statehood, standing firm on their right to their ancestral land.
Israeli recognition of Kosovo is an insult to Serbia and it threatens to cast a shadow over the improved relations between the two countries.
It also sets a dangerous precedent that could easily be turned around and used against the Jewish state.
After all, if Kosovars can unilaterally split apart Serbia to create their own country, why can't Palestinians in Judea or Israeli Arabs in the Galilee do the same?
Kosovo has sought to justify its demand for independence much in the same way that the Palestinians have: by invoking the right to self-determination.
But where this right begins and ends in international relations is of course a thorny and perilous issue.
Indeed, just what exactly are its limits?
For example, as a matter of principle, could residents of Brooklyn claim to be a unique nation with their own history, geography, cuisine and even accent, and seek to break away from the US and form their own country?
Or how about Catalonians in Spain, Corsicans in France, or Scots in the United Kingdom, many of whom would like to establish independent nations?
If every ethnic minority were permitted to exercise the right to self-determination, it would spark an endless round of chaos across the globe.
Over the years, by opposing Kosovar independence as a matter of principle, Israel could reasonably argue that it was upholding a consistent position, one that upheld the inviolability of sovereign borders. But after recognizing Kosovo, that consistency is now a thing of the past.
To be sure, the agreement announced last week is not without benefit to Israel, as both Serbia and Muslim-majority Kosovo have committed to opening embassies in Jerusalem, further strengthening the international legitimacy of the Holy City's status as the capital of the Jewish state. Vucic and Hoti also agreed to outlaw the Hezbollah terrorist movement.
And coming just weeks after the announcement regarding the agreement between Israel and the United Arab Emirates, it lends an air of progress to changes underway in this part of the world.
But the fact remains that this has come at a very high price.
As Arthur Koll, Israel's former ambassador to Serbia, told The Media Line, "We're not connected to the Balkan conflict, and we're not supposed to be."
"I'm not sure it's in Israel's interest to get mixed up in this deal," Koll said, adding, "We're paying a price by surrendering a principle of ours, a long-standing policy. It's a step that might have future repercussions for the Israel-Palestinian conflict."
By recognizing Kosovo, Israel dealt a blow to its relations with Serbia, undermined its own position on Palestinian self-determination and inserted itself into a dispute where it does not belong.
Rather than embracing Kosovo, Israel should be cultivating ties with Serbs, with whom Jews have a long and shared history of friendship and mutual respect.
Sadly, with elections in the US less than two months away, and Washington's need to register foreign policy successes, politics have once again triumphed over principle.
The writer, who served as deputy communications director in the Prime Minister's Office under Benjamin Netanyahu during his first term, is president of the Israel Serbia Friendship Association.