The European Union is advising the Palestinian Authority to “be careful” regarding its stated plan to ask the UN for non-member state observer status at its General Assembly, Deputy Greek Foreign Minister Dimitris Kourkoulas said Wednesday.
Kourkoulas, on a one day trip to Israel where he met his counterpart Danny Ayalon and National Security Adviser Yaakov Amidror, told The Jerusalem Post that while there has not been any formal EU discussion on the matter, informal deliberations are ongoing.
“The EU is advising them to be careful, but the decision is theirs,” he said. Asked what the Palestinians should be careful about, he replied “the possible negative consequences of their decision.”
“We are still fully behind the peace process, and we have not discovered any other better alternative,” Kourkoulas said, hinting that such a move would have a negative impact on the process.
Greece, he said, has not made a decision on how it would vote on the matter, but he stated that Athens’ main objective was “to keep the peace process alive, and in line with that objective we will make a decision when the time comes.”
Greece voted in favor when the Palestinians sought and gained admission as a state in UNESCO in November.
The 27 EU states split on that vote, with five countries voting against the move, 11 voting for, and another 11 abstaining.
The goal this time, he said, will be for a unified EU position.
Israel has made clear to the European Union countries that the Palestinian move at the UN would be a serious setback to the diplomatic processes, because no Israeli government would enter negotiations with the Palestinians with the 1967 lines as the starting point, and – after a UN vote ratifying that position – no PA government would negotiate from any other starting line.
Asked if he heard from Ayalon or Amidor, with whom he discussed the issue at length, that if the PA goes through with this move it would significantly damage the diplomatic process, Kourkoulas said “I think this is obvious.”
While the issue of the bid is not slated to be on the agenda when the 27 EU foreign ministers meet in Luxembourg Monday for their monthly consultations, sanctions against Iran will be one of the major issues to be discussed.
Kourkoulas said that Greece was in favor of further sanctions against Iran, but added that the measures needed to be “clever” and not “counterproductive.”
He said that the “political will” exists in the EU to step up the sanctions, and that the key is finding measures that “hit the government and the regime” and not the people. The implications of the measures need to be studied carefully, he said.
Up until about two years ago, Kourkoulas said, Iran was Greece’s chief supplier of oil, providing the country with some 70 percent of its needs.
Now, as a result of the EU embargo on Iranian oil that went into effect in the summer, the country is getting its oil from Angola and the open market.
Asked what he thought about Prime Minister Binyamin Netanayhu’s recent speech on Iran at the UN where he drew a red line on a bomb graphic, the Greek diplomat said that “in terms of communication, I think it was a very good tactic. It was a very clever way to present a political position to everybody. The result was that everybody understands now what are the red lines for Israel, there could be no misunderstanding about what he said.”
With historic adversary Turkey clearly on his mind, Kourkoulas said that Greece believes a nuclear Iran would be a “very dangerous development” not only because of the threat Iran would represent, but also because it would “open the door for other countries of the region to try to get nuclear weapons, and this could lead to a spiral that nobody would like to have.”
Regarding the recent military skirmishes between Turkey and Syria, Kourkoulas condemned the Syrian firing on Turkish territory, but said “we urge both parties, including Turkey, to show restraint, and not to overreact.”
Kourkoulas said that some 2,000 Syrian refugees are currently in Greece. He also said that the EU was giving substantial assistance to Jordan and Turkey to deal with the tens of thousands of refugees there, because of the concern that the refugee issue could further destabilize the region.
Turning to bilateral Greek- Israeli ties, Kourkoulas said the strengthening of ties that was started under ousted prime minister George Papandreou is continuing unabated under the present government. He cited defense cooperation and a rapid increase in the number of Israeli tourists heading to Greece as a couple examples of the continuing robust bilateral ties.
Further, he said, with Greece going through a period of privatization, a number of Israeli investors are showing interest in possible investments in the country, something important in Greece’s efforts to re-establish international confidence.
Kourkoulas hailed Tuesday’s visit to Greece by German Chancellor Angela Merkel as an important symbolic step, even though tens of thousands of Greeks took to the streets to protest.
The visit sent the message that Greece was going to remain in the euro zone, he said. “You don’t visit a country and then take steps to push it out.” Merkel’s visit, he added, “put an end to the story” about whether Greece would remain in the euro zone.