Greek president set to make symbolic visit despite unrest

Riots and widespread strikes don't dissuade President Karolos Papoulias from making visit to Israel highlighting warmed ties.

Greek President Karolos Papoulias 311 (photo credit: Stoyan Nenov/Reuters)
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 toward Israel.
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 sail.
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.”