Greece views its new and improved relationship with Israel as a strategic, long
term partnership that is not dependent on the fate of Israel’s relationship with
Turkey, Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras told Prime Minister Binyamin
Netanyahu on Tuesday.
The comments, according to diplomatic officials,
came during a meeting the two leaders had as part of the first Israeli- Greek
government-to-government meeting. Samaras arrived in Israel along with eight of
his ministers to hold a day of intensive bilateral meetings during which some 10
agreements were signed in a variety of fields from public security to tourism
Among the issues Netanyahu raised with Samaras was the EU
settlement guidelines set to go into effect on January 1. The guidelines call,
among other elements, for Israel to sign a “territorial clause” before entering
into any new agreements with the EU that would stipulate that the agreement is
inapplicable in east Jerusalem, the Golan Heights and the West Bank. Israel has
said it would not sign such a clause and the two sides are currently negotiating
over the implementation of the guidelines.
Greek Foreign Minister
Evangelos Venizelos discussed the matter during a meeting with Deputy Foreign
Minister Ze’ev Elkin. Elkin said that Venizelos supported Israel’s position on
this matter, and has made his position clear to EU foreign policy chief
Elkin said that Greece’s position on this matter had
added importance since it will be taking over the EU’s rotating presidency on
Israeli officials have expressed confidence that a resolution
to the issue can be found, citing the support of political leaders in a number
of European states.
Among the areas of cooperation Netanyahu and Samaras
discussed was the possibility of creating a gas triangle – Israel- Cyprus-Greece
– with Greece the hub of Israeli and Cypriot gas exports to the rest of
Israel’s ambassador to Greece, Aryeh Mekel, said this
government-to-government meeting “constitutes the peak in the new and upgraded
relations between Israel and Greece that began some three years ago. As opposed
to the past, today there is close cooperation in a number of
Mekel said there has also been a dramatic change in Greek public
opinion, which in the past was negative toward Israel, but which today is in
favor of close cooperation.
“In the long run this could be the most
important element of the improvement in relations,” he said.
flowering in Greek-Israeli ties began in 2010 and coincided with the sharp
deterioration of Israeli-Turkish ties.
Netanyahu, during his meeting with
Samaras, praised the Greeks for taking a tough stand against the neo-fascist
Golden Dawn Party and arresting six of the party’s MPs following a public furor
over the murder of an anti-fascist rapper by a Golden Dawn member.
joint appearance with Samaras after their meeting, Netanyahu said he wanted to
commend his government for its “resolute opposition to neo- Nazism,
anti-Semitism and racism. You have taken important steps, courageous steps that
demonstrate clearly that Greece is a land of tolerance and freedom.”
also commended Samaras for the way he has handled Greece’s economic crisis, and
encouraged Israeli businessmen to “go and invest in Greece, it’s probably a very
Netanyahu said the “smart money should be going to Greece
now, as the smart money should be going to Israel always.”
One area where
the two countries do not see eye-to-eye, however, is Iran, although the
differences were not aired in public. While Netanyahu repeated his mantra that
the pressure must be kept on Tehran, diplomatic officials have said that Greece
– whose economy has been hurt by the sanctions it has imposed on oil imports
from Iran – is in favor of giving Iranian President Hassan Rouhani a chance to
prove himself, and that the West should perhaps ease up on some sanctions as a
good will gesture.
During his public comments Netanyahu said that the
Iranian regime sought a partial agreement that will ease the sanctions that have
significantly hurt the Iranian economy.
“Of course what they want is
merely the relaxation of sanctions without the real cessation of Iran’s program
to develop military nuclear capability,” he said. “That is unacceptable. The
sanctions must be continued, they must be strengthened until the Iranian
military nuclear program is dismantled.”
Samaras, in his public comments,
tellingly did not mention Iran.