Netanyahu sets August as target date for Israel-Greece tourism restart

"This is an expression of Israelis' love for Greece."

Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakisis (L) meets with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, June 16, 2020 (photo credit: PRIME MINISTER'S OFFICE)
Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakisis (L) meets with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, June 16, 2020
Israel intends to allow tourists to return from Greece and Cyprus without a quarantine requirement by August 1, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Tuesday in a press conference with his Greek counterpart, Kyriakos Mitsotakis.
The final date to restart tourism will depend on the number of coronavirus cases in each country, he said.
“Over a million Israelis go to Greece every year,” Netanyahu said. “This is an expression of Israelis’ love for Greece.”
Mitsotakis emphasized the importance of opening his country to incoming tourism.
Tourism accounted for 25.7%-30.9% of Greece’s GDP in 2018, according to the Greek Tourism Confederation’s research department, and 90% of tourism revenue came from abroad.
“We are working hard to ensure tourists are safe,” Mitsotakis said.
The EU is expected to allow member states to open their borders to other countries on July 1, and Greece sought an agreement with Israel to come into effect by that date. Greece sought reciprocity with Israel so that people flying to Israel from Greece – including Israelis returning from vacation – will not have to go into a two-week quarantine upon arrival.
Netanyahu also referred to continuing talks on the East-Med Pipeline, which he called the “most important project” for Israel and Greece. East-Med is set to become the world’s longest undersea natural-gas pipeline, at 1,900 km. long from Israel to Europe. The ambitious energy project includes constructing a pipeline from Israeli economic waters to the western Greek mainland via Cyprus and Crete.
Mitsotakis warned against Turkish actions in the Mediterranean, which he called “a threat to the security and stability of the region."
“I mentioned to the prime minister the recent incidents of illegal and provocative behavior of Turkey on our sea, air and land borders,” he said. “We will always seek peace, respecting international law and the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea.”
Of specific concern for Greece is that Turkey laid claim last year to extensive parts of the Mediterranean in a maritime border delineation agreement with Libya, which most of the world does not recognize. But Turkey could try to obstruct the East-Med pipeline and gas exploration in the region.
“Turkey is self-isolating itself with the way it is behaving,” Mitsotakis said at the AJC Virtual Global Forum in the evening, via video link from Jerusalem. “We will do whatever we need to protect our sovereign rights.”
He pushed back against claims that closer Israel-Greece ties are a dig at Turkey, saying: “We value and cherish the Greek-Israeli relationship on its own merits and its own rights. We have national interests in mind, and it is easier to cooperate with countries that share our basic values.”
Netanyahu welcomed Mitsotakis to Jerusalem for the fourth Israeli-Greek government-to-government meeting. Israeli and Greek ministers signed agreements to promote cooperation in cybersecurity, energy, agriculture and tourism.
“This is the first G2G perhaps in the world in the corona period, or one of them,” Netanyahu said to Mitsotakis. “It reflects the fact that we have been both quite successful in battling the corona epidemic, and it also reflects the tremendous friendship that is building between Israel and Greece. 
Recently, we celebrated 30 years of upgrading the relationship to full diplomatic relations. This was done by your late father, who was also the prime minister of Greece."
“Jerusalem and Athens, Athens and Jerusalem, are the two foundations of Western civilization,” he added. “We’re very proud to be the joint bearers of that legacy.”
In a meeting with Mitsotakis, Alternate Prime Minister and Defense Minister Benny Gantz sought to enlist Greece to the efforts of the International Atomic Energy Agency to demand that Iran grant its inspectors full access to all of its nuclear facilities.
Gantz also met with his Greek counterpart, Nikolaos Panagiotopoulos.
Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi met with Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias, thanking him for Greece’s support for Israel and saying he would act to strengthen the partnership between the countries.
A diplomatic source said ahead of the visit that Netanyahu would ask his Greek counterpart to help moderate the EU’s response to the possibility that Israel will extend its laws to parts of the West Bank.
Greece is unlikely to change its position opposing the move, the source said, but it could join other countries that have promised to block economic sanctions and could play a role in softening the EU’s statements criticizing Israel.
“Greece is not militant, and we expect them to help us,” the source said. “We want the EU to have a dialogue with us and not sanctions or declarations threatening to punish us.”
Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades is expected to visit Israel next Wednesday to discuss similar topics.
Cyprus will be a tougher sell on helping Israel with its EU ties in light of possible sovereignty moves in the West Bank, the diplomatic source said, because it is particularly sensitive to land disputes due to Turkey’s occupation of Northern Cyprus.