Together with my staff at the embassy, we will do our utmost to use the momentum to take our bilateral relations to the next level
For November issue of Diplomacy&Commerce magazine, we spoke with the new Ambassador of Israel to the Republic of Serbia, H.E. Yahel Vilan, about his agenda in the coming years in terms of bilateral and economic relations between Israel and Serbia. Also, we asked him what does the relocation of Serbian embassy to Jerusalem mean for Israel, and what does the recognition of Kosovo by Israel mean for Serbia. “The upcoming opening of the Office of the Government of Serbia in Jerusalem has political and economic importance. We see it as an initial step towards relocating the embassy to Jerusalem. What we would like to see in the future are concrete joint ventures, joint projects, and business deals between the two communities,” concluded Ambassador Vilan.
You came to Serbia a few months ago and you have great international experience. What are your first impressions of Belgrade and Serbia?
As expected, I came to a very friendly country with strong relations with Israel. It is a challenge and an opportunity to enhance the already good relations, especially in economy and investments. On a personal level, as a big sports fun, especially basketball, Serbia is kind of a dream come true for me.
What have you set as priorities on your agenda in the coming years in terms of relations between our two countries?
First and foremost, to work with the Serbian government on the implementation of the parts of the Washington Agreement connected to Israel such as relocating the embassy to Jerusalem. Secondly, enhancing economic and trade relations in terms of bilateral agreements that facilitate and ease the trade and investments along with the existing ones materializing.
Providing support and sharing the experiences in combating COVID 19 is also part of the agenda.
On September 3rd, Belgrade and Priština signed the so-called Washington Agreement. What does the relocation of our embassy to Jerusalem mean for Israel, and what does the recognition of Kosovo by Israel mean for Serbia?
That is a very important issue for us. Naturally, we believe that all embassies of countries that are present in Israel should be located in our capital, Jerusalem. Of course, we warmly welcome Serbia’s decision to move its embassy to Jerusalem by July next year. We will do our utmost to work together with the Government of Serbia to see that happen. At my meeting with President Vučić, we discussed the ways in which Israel and Serbia should work together on various issues.
“I’m confident that Israel-Serbia relations are strong enough to overcome the challenge to the benefit of our two peoples”
Recognition of Kosovo was in the framework of the Washington Agreement and therefore Israel is committed to the implementation. I’m confident that Israel-Serbia relations are strong enough to overcome the challenge to the benefit of our two peoples.
The opening of a joint office of the Serbian Government and the Chamber of Commerce and Industry of Serbia in Margalit Startup City in Jerusalem is underway. How important is this for boosting the economic cooperation between our two countries?
The upcoming opening of the Office of the Government of Serbia in Jerusalem has political and economic importance. We see it as an initial step towards relocating the embassy to Jerusalem. At the same time, it sends a message that economic cooperation is the main focus of our bilateral relations and an area in which Serbia would like to see improvement and will work on in the coming period.
It was mentioned that the Office will concentrate on cooperation in the sector of innovation and innovative economy. This includes a wide spectrum of hi-tech and cyber products and presents a great opportunity for both countries.
“The Office will definitely assist in putting Serbia on the map of Israeli techies and other businesses and we welcome our future cooperation on this mission”
As a startup nation, Israel is one of the countries Serbia chose as a model to develop its innovation ecosystem. We have had numerous Israeli speakers at various events, conferences, bilateral visits and similar. Initial contacts between the two tech communities have been created. What we would like to see in the future are concrete joint ventures, joint projects and business deals between the two communities. The Office will definitely assist in putting Serbia on the map of Israeli techies and other businesses and we welcome our future cooperation on this mission of advancement of our economic ties.
During the recent meeting with Serbian PM, you discussed further comprehensive reinforcement of relations between Israel and Serbia. Where do you see the potential for improvement and in which areas?
As mentioned before, Israel and Serbia have been nurturing strong relations for decades. Nevertheless, we highly appreciate the contribution of President Vučić in accelerating cooperation in recent years.
The 21st century diplomacy focuses on business and economy, first and foremost. That’s the way to transform friendly relations into real benefits for both economies and peoples.
Therefore, innovation and R&D, defence, cyber industry along with agriculture and water technologies are the areas which we will work on to enhance cooperation.
In this regard, I would like to use this opportunity to mention that we have just appointed an Israeli Co-Chairman of the Joint Committee for Economic and Trade Cooperation that has been agreed upon President Rivlin’s visit in 2018. We hope to see the first meeting in the nearest future.
Israel and the UAE have recently signed a historic peace agreement. What are the potentials of trilateral cooperation between the UAE, Israel and Serbia?
Following the historic Abraham Accords Peace Agreement, I had a great meeting with the UAE Ambassador to Serbia at which we discussed the potential for such cooperation. As far as I know, both countries have a relevant business presence in the areas of real estate and agriculture across Serbia. We will look for the best ways to utilize the cooperation in the existing areas along with exploring new joint projects opportunities in the country.
You arrived in Serbia at a very sensitive time. Is that a challenge for you?
I prefer to look at it more as an opportunity than a challenge. Together with my staff at the embassy, we will do our utmost to use the momentum to take our bilateral relations to the next level.
Being Ambassador in Serbia
Given your background, and having experience in Eastern European countries, was coming to Serbia easier compared to previous countries where you served as a member of diplomatic corps?
Bearing in mind my personal background, being half Hungarian – half Polish, serving in these two countries was quite an experience, both personally and professionally. I felt more “at home” than in other postings. I have all the reasons to expect the same from my time in Serbia.