Greek PM’s visit signals warming ties

Turkish FM meets Mashaal as Ankara strengthens links to Hamas.

George Papandreou 311 (photo credit: Associated Press)
George Papandreou 311
(photo credit: Associated Press)
As a chill continues to blow through Israel’s ties with Ankara, those with Athens are warming considerably, as evidenced by Wednesday’s visit by Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou.
This will be the first visit to Israel by a Greek prime minister since Konstantinos Mitsotakis came in 1992.
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Papandreou, whose father, Andreas, served as prime minister of Greece twice (1981 to 1989, and 1993 to 1996) and was known for pro-Palestinian, anti-Israeli leanings, has chartered a more moderate policy toward Israel than his predecessors since taking office last October.
George Papandreou’s grandfather, George senior, was also prime minister.
Once considered among the harshest critics of Israel inside the EU, along with countries such as Ireland, Sweden, Portugal and Belgium, Greece is no longer in that “basket,” one diplomatic official said.
Papandreou, whose 36- hour visit will be rich in symbolic gestures, is scheduled to arrive on Wednesday afternoon and go immediately to a meeting with President Shimon Peres, whom he knows from the Socialist International.
Papandreou has been president of that body since 2006.
Papandreou will then visit Greek Patriarch of Jerusalem Theophilos III in the Old City, followed by a meeting with Greek Holocaust survivors.
On Thursday, his day will start with a wreath-laying ceremony at Herzl’s tomb, followed by a visit to Yad Vashem.
He is then scheduled to hold a working lunch with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, and back to back meetings with Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman and opposition head Tzipi Livni.
He will then go to Ramallah for a meeting with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Salam Fayyad.
Papandreou met Netanyahu coincidentally at a restaurant in Moscow in February, and – according to diplomatic officials – they hit it off. Both have strong American roots, as Papandreou was born in St.
Paul, Minnesota, in 1952, when his father was a professor there.
“They have a good personal chemistry,” one official said.
He noted that the two leaders spoke a number of times in the past few months, since some of the ships trying to break the blockade of Gaza, including the recent Libyan-sponsored ship, set sail from Greek ports.
Tensions with Turkey lead to warming relationship with Greece
People in government said there was no doubt that the recent tension with Turkey has led to a warming of the relationship between Israel and some of Turkey’s historic rivals, such as Greece, Cyprus and Bulgaria. The Cypriot and Bulgarian foreign ministers paid visits to Israel earlier this year.
According to one diplomatic official, the Greeks – looking at the Israeli-Turkish, and Turkish-US tensions – are realizing that strategic alliances in the region are changing, and that this might be a good time to get closer to Israel as a way of warming ties with Washington.
When Israel had a close strategic alliance with Turkey, the official said, Athens gave up any thought of forging such an alliance with Israel.
But now the situation with Ankara has changed, and Athens is seeing more opportunities with Israel.
Diplomatic officials also said that Greece’s economic difficulties also had something to do with the warming of ties, with Athens working on the assumption that if it raised its diplomatic profile, and started to be seen as a significant player in the region, then this might help it convince the international community to give it the economic assistance it seeks.
Ankara, meanwhile, has continued strengthening its relations with Hamas, with Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu meeting Hamas chief Khalad Mashaal in Damascus on Monday.
According to the Turkish daily Hürriyet, Davutoglu and Mashaal discussed the Hamas-Fatah division, and “reviewed the efforts to revive peace talks between Palestine and Israel.”
The paper quoted Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan as saying Hamas was not a terrorist organization, but rather “a resistance group defending [its] territory.”
Davutoglu was in Damascus for half a day, during which he met Syrian President Bashar Assad and visiting Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri.