Greek President Karolos Papoulias 311.
(photo credit: Stoyan Nenov/Reuters)
The economic crisis in Greece that has triggered riots and widespread strikes
will not deter the country’s President Karolos Papoulias from making a state
visit to Israel in 10 days time, a symbolic gesture reflecting the dramatic
improvement and upgrade in ties over the past year.
Papoulias, 82, who
served two stints as foreign minister in the late 1980s and mid-1990s when
Greece was considered one of the least friendly countries in Europe to Israel,
was a close associate of the late prime minister Andreas Papandreou, the father
of the incumbent Prime Minister George Papandreou.
The elder Papandreou
was widely considered pro- Palestinian, and Papoulias was among those who built
Greece’s strongly pro- Arab foreign policy at the time. Papoulias mediated
Yasser Arafat’s departure from Lebanon on Greek vessels in 1983. Now Papoulias
is considered in Jerusalem a supporter of Greece’s realignment of its policy
Papoulias is scheduled to arrive on July 11 for a 48- hour
visit as a guest of President Shimon Peres. In addition to meetings here, and
participation in a Greek-Israeli economic conference, he will go to Ramallah for
meetings with Palestinian Authority heads.
Israel’s envoy to Athens Aryeh
Mekel said there has been a “dramatic upgrade in relations over the last year.
We are placing a lot of importance on the visit of the president, who represents
the Hellenic Republic and the entire Greek people.
We see this as an
important symbolic sign of the new relationship between the two countries and
the two peoples.”
Israeli officials in Jerusalem have expressed
satisfaction in recent days over the Greek government’s handling of the
Gaza-bound flotilla, which is organizing in Athens.
Although the Greek
government has not banned the ships from leaving Greek ports for the Gaza Strip,
it has issued firm travel advisories against participation and strictly enforced
the regulations regarding the proper procedures to follow before setting
In a speech on Thursday night to the air force pilots course’s
graduating class, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu mentioned “my friend”
Papandreou as one of the world leaders who has made statements and worked
against the “provocation flotilla.”