The Greek parliament, as expected, became the latest European legislative body to recommend recognition of a Palestinian state, adopting the measure in a nearly unanimous show of support on Tuesday.
The vote took place during a special parliament meeting attended by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, who addressed the body afterward. Several other European parliaments, such as those in Britain, Ireland and France, have passed similar motions to this non-binding resolution.
Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely responded quickly, issuing a statement saying that Abbas and the PA continue to choose unilateral steps to receive “recognition that has no practical significance.”
“Instead of Abu Mazen [Abbas] ending incitement and funding of terrorism, he goes on a twisted path that will lead him nowhere,” she said.
The move came amid a blooming of Israeli-Greek ties, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu scheduled to meet twice with Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras next month – once at a government-to-government meeting in Jerusalem, and the next day at a trilateral summit in Nicosia with Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades.
The Greek parliament’s resolution was drawn up weeks ago, apparently evidence that the move is not related to the understandings signed last week between Israeli and Turkish officials paving the way for a possible reconciliation between the two countries.
Nevertheless, Israeli officials said Netanyahu has assured both Greece and Cyprus that a normalization of ties with Turkey will in no way impact ties with them.
The Greek newspaper Kathimerini reported Monday that despite the move in parliament, Tsipras has indicated that recognizing a Palestinian state was not on the immediate horizon.
“When the time is deemed to be right, Greece will make the necessary steps,” he said.
Former Israeli ambassador Arye Mekel, now a senior research fellow at Bar-Ilan University’s Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies, said Tsipras is performing a very delicate “balancing act.”
On the one hand, he said, Tsipras has real interests with Israel – including a burgeoning security relationship and possible lucrative gas cooperation – but there is also discomfort in his radical left Syriza party on his moving closer to Israel.
“He has to give them something,” Mekel said. “So he gives them rhetoric, ceremonies and symbols. But his true interests are with Israel.”
Syriza was behind the state recognition resolution in parliament.
One manifestation of the real interests the two countries share will be seen in January, when Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon is scheduled to make his first visit to the country.
Abbas praised the Greek vote, calling it an encouraging step for the Palestinians.
During his subsequent speech to the parliament, he said it was symbolic of the “humanitarian relations between the Greek and Palestinian peoples.”
Abbas called on all countries to follow suit and recognize an independent and sovereign Palestinian state.
He also used the podium to repeat his charges that Israel was “violating Islamic and Christian holy sites,” and accused the Israeli government of adopting a “racist and expansionist policy against the Palestinians.”
Abbas warned that Israel’s actions were threatening to turn the Israeli- Palestinian conflict into a religious conflict, and said he was opposed to the use of firearms in the conflict with Israel.
“We have banned the use of firearms in demonstrations held in Palestine,” he said. “We believe in dialogue and a peaceful conflict.”
The Palestinians, Abbas added, are peaceful people who respect Judaism.
“We are not against the Jewish faith,” he said. “Our problem is with the Zionist occupation, and we hope that our dispute won’t be transformed into a religious conflict.”
PLO Executive Committee member Hanan Ashrawi welcomed the Greek Parliament’s vote.
“On behalf of the Palestinian leadership and the people of Palestine, we extend our gratitude to the members of the Greek parliament for taking a principled stand and for courageously adopting a resolution in favor of the recognition of the State of Palestine,” Ashrawi said in a statement.
“We thank the people and representatives of Greece for ensuring the success of this symbolic vote and for siding with peace and justice.”
Ashrawi called on the Greek government and other governments to follow suit and officially recognize the independent Palestinian state “on the 1967 borders, with Jerusalem as its capital in the immediate future, and work to end Israel’s military occupation.”
On Monday, the Greek web site Gazzetta reported that Tsipras welcomed Abbas to Athens by saying that Greece backed a two-state solution that “guarantees the establishment of a viable, territorially unified, independent and sovereign Palestinian state on the basis of the 1967 borders with east Jerusalem as its capital and which will coexist in peace and security with Israel.”
According to the report, Tsipras called for an end to settlement construction and respect of the status quo for holy sites. The report said that from now on Greece will, in all its public documents, refer to the Palestinian Authority as “Palestine.”
Tsipras repeated what he said last month in Jerusalem, that Greece is interested in using its good relations with both sides to play a constructive role in the diplomatic process.
“Greece can play this role of a bridge in the direction of a just and viable solution to the Palestine issue,” he said. The country has in the past offered to host Israel-Palestinian talks on one of the Greek islands.
Abbas, according to the report, told Tsipras: “Our people and our land need to be defended by the international community in order to have peace and democracy, like other people do. This is the last chance to have peace in the region and a resolution of the Palestinian issue.”