Greek PM calls ties with Israel ‘strategic, long term’

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu lauds Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras for tough stand against neo-fascist party.

Netanyahu with Greek PM Antonis Samaras 370 (photo credit: Amos Ben-Gershom/GPO)
Netanyahu with Greek PM Antonis Samaras 370
(photo credit: Amos Ben-Gershom/GPO)
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 and culture.
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 Catherine Ashton.
Elkin said that Greece’s position on this matter had added importance since it will be taking over the EU’s rotating presidency on January 1.
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 Europe.
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 fields.”
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.
The 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.
In a 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.”
He 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 good deal.”
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.