Peres with Papoulias 311.
(photo credit: GPO )
The arrival of Greek President Karolos Papoulias in Israel signals not just another state visit, but the beginning of a new chapter in relations between the two countries whose history has in one way or another been intertwined for centuries, President Shimon Peres said on Monday morning.
Peres spoke while greeting the seventh president of the Third Hellenic Republic and his entourage.
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He thanked Papoulias for the significant role played by Greece in blocking the recent Gaza-bound flotilla. Noting that many of the people who had tried to run the Israeli blockade had carried banners with the imprint “Free Gaza,” Peres declared that Gaza does not want peace, and that if Gaza would be free of terrorism, Gaza would be free.
Israel left the Strip voluntarily in 2005, he said, and in return has been fired upon from Gaza ever since at the instigation of Iran. Gaza, which is reputedly in dire economic straits, spends an incredible amount of money on weapons to fire at Israel, he said.
Peres praised Greece for helping to calm the atmosphere in the region, and noted the Papoulias’s personal involvement in this endeavor.
“None of us will forget that your planes were the first to fly in and help us fight the fires in the Carmel Forest [last December],” Peres added.
Acknowledging the differences between Israel and Greece, Peres said that what counted is that Greece like Israel is in favor of peace and fights terrorism to bring about peace.
Peres said that both countries have long intellectual, spiritual and philosophical legacies from which to build a better future for the region.
In his welcoming address Peres also praised Greece for safeguarding the dignity of its Jews and not having a history of anti-Semitism.
This contradicts a Los Angeles Times
report by Anthee Carassava who in February wrote that Greece more than many European nations continues to wrestle with anti- Jewish feelings and that such sentiments have been revived amid the angst and anger of the country’s economic crisis. Carassava also pointed to the desecration and vandalization of synagogues, Jewish cemeteries and Holocaust monuments, and the painting of swastikas on the Athens-based Jewish Museum of Greece.
Papoulias’s first meeting in Israel after arriving in Jerusalem on Sunday night was with Greek Holocaust survivors.
He was scheduled to visit Yad Vashem on Tuesday.
He told Peres that he was very happy to be in Israel, and that disputes between the two countries notwithstanding, there is a warm feeling of friendship and cooperation as they face the challenges of the future together.
“Our renewed relationship will benefit both countries and those surrounding us,” Papoulias said.
He said looked forward to forming some joint strategy with Israel to overcome his country’s economic woes. He will attend an economic seminar on Tuesday with Tourism Minister Stas Meseznikov with the aim of promoting Israeli tourism to Greece, and boosting bilateral trade.
Papoulias expressed the hope that Israel would support Greece’s position in attempts to reunify Cyprus, which has been divided since the Turkish invasion in 1974.
Papoulias was previously in Beit Hanassi on a private visit in November 2005 when he came to Israel for the installation of Greek Patriarch Theophilos III. On that occasion he invited then-president Moshe Katsav to visit Greece and wrote in the Beit Hanassi Guest Book: “I visited the president of Israel, a country whose people share close ties with the people of Greece and who struggle together for peace and prosperity.” Katsav subsequently paid a state visit to Greece in February 2006.
However, when Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu went to Greece in August
of last year, (the first Israeli prime minister to do so), he was not
received by Papoulias. There was a mass protest demonstration in Athens against Netanyahu’s visit and a call for his arrest as a war criminal.
Although Greece recognized Israel as far back as 1949, diplomatic
relations were not upgraded to ambassadorial level until May 1991 under
the administration of prime minister Andreus Papandreou, the father of
the present Prime minister Giorgos Papandreou, in whose government
Papoulias served for eight years as foreign minister.From Beit Hanassi
Papoulias proceeded to the Knesset for meetings with Speaker Reuven
Rivlin and opposition leader Tzipi Livni, and then met with Netanyahu at
his residence, after which he visited the Greek Patriarchate and the
Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Papoulias was back at Beit Hanassi Sunday night for a state dinner that Peres hosted in his honor.