'Greece is waiting for our Israeli friends to return'

EXCLUSIVE: To mark his visit to the State of Israel, which begins Tuesday, Ynet's diplomatic correspondent spoke to Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis about bilateral ties, anti-Semitism and annexation

Itamar Eichner |
To mark his visit to the State of Israel, which begins Tuesday, Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis spoke to Ynet's diplomatic correspondent about bilateral ties, anti-Semitism and annexation.
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  • 7 View gallery
    בנימין נתניהו וראש ממשלת יוון קיריאקוס מיצוטקיס
    בנימין נתניהו וראש ממשלת יוון קיריאקוס מיצוטקיס
    Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meeting with his Greek counterpart Kyriakos Mitsotakis
    (Photo: GPO)
    What is the purpose of coming now to visit Israel? Are you not worried about coronavirus?
    My first visit abroad after the lockdown is to Israel and it signals our strategic partnership and the deep emotional bond between Greeks and Israelis. This is reflected in every aspect of the relationship between our nations.
    We have managed to deal with this unprecedented health crisis well and my visit here is a testament to this success. As we are now celebrating 30 years since the establishment of full diplomatic relations, the Prime Ministers΄ Summit signals our governments΄strategic choice to build new momentum.
    The cooperation between our countries is reaching unprecedented heights. There is a huge potential for concerted action in all sectors such as investments, defense, technology, innovation and tourism and also health.
    I deeply believe that the cooperation between Greece and Israel, in such turbulent times, is instrumental in strengthening stability, security and prosperity, to the benefit of our peoples and of Eastern Mediterranean.
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    קיריאקוס מיצוטאקיס
    קיריאקוס מיצוטאקיס
    Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis
    (Photo: The Office of the Prime Minister of Greece)
    How do you explain the fact that the good relations between Greece and Israel continued with the socialist extreme left as well as with the conservatives?
    Relations between countries rely on historical ties that span decades and even centuries.
    The strong relationship between the peoples of Greece and Israel are founded on mutual respect, culture and common visions. As such this is a lasting bond that transcends politics.
    The partnership of Greece and Israel has been indeed systematically built over the course of the last 30 years. We now give a fresh impetus to the elevated, strategic partnership of our countries.
    Do you consider yourself a friend of Israel like your father?
    Konstantinos Mitsotakis was a visionary politician and a true patriot. He was the architect of the establishment of full diplomatic relations between our countries.
    As obvious as that decision seems now, that was not the case back in 1990.He went against the tide. He made the decision being convinced that Greece and Israel are natural allies and so do I.
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    מספרה אתונה יוון הקלות ב סגר קורונה
    מספרה אתונה יוון הקלות ב סגר קורונה
    A barber in Athens and his client wear face masks to protect against coronavirus
    (Photo: AFP)
    How is Greece preparing for the renewal of tourist links and the flights between Israel and Greece? 
    The tourist season in Greece is almost ready to start, and we are looking forward to receiving our friends from Israel.
    I am confident that tourism flows from Israel will resume very soon. Almost 1 million Israelis visit Greece every year.
    We do know that this summer will be different compared to the past due to COVID-19, but I want to assure you that we have set up all the necessary health protocols; the protection of public health and the safety of visitors is a top priority.
    As our economy and society gradually return to normal and Greece opens up to tourism, we aspire to attract as many visitors as possible.
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    נמל תעופה ב אתונה יוון
    נמל תעופה ב אתונה יוון
    Travellers and staff wear masks at Athens airport
    (Photo: AP)
    The Greek people do not have the reputation for discipline like the Germans or the people of Scandinavia. How do you explain your success in fighting the coronavirus?
    Perhaps some are surprised that we are among the best performers in COVID-19 prevention. But we did well because we managed to strike a rare balance: The government trusted the advice of the experts and presented a clear plan that citizens could trust and follow.
    We reached the crisis management decisions based on the experts advice and expertise and we ensured that we delivered a clear message to the citizens.
    But first and foremost there was the crucial decision that I made to put the public health and human lives above anything else.
    Technical difficulties involved in building something like the EastMed pipeline (a trilateral gas supply plan signed this year between Israel, Greece and Cyprus - Ed.) aside, why hasn't it happened till now?
    Projects such as EastMed have a huge collective benefit, both for our countries and for the wider region, and its implementation will make a real contribution to the security of the European Union’s energy supply.
    The European Union’s decision to finance technical pipeline studies is by no means accidental, while at the same time the entire geostrategic importance of the pipeline is recognized by the United States, with the most recent example being the adoption of the EastMed Act.
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    בנימין נתניהו עם ראש ממשלת יוון ונשיא קפריסין חתימה הסכם צינור גז ב אתונה
    בנימין נתניהו עם ראש ממשלת יוון ונשיא קפריסין חתימה הסכם צינור גז ב אתונה
    L-R: Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades, Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the signing ceremony for the EastMed pipeline deal earlier this year
    (Photo: EPA)
    Could Turkey undermine or neutralize Cyprus' partnership in the EastMed project due to its control of the peninsula? Was there a better approach to integrate Turkey in the agreement?
    The tripartite forms of cooperation – such as that between Greece, Cyprus and Israel – do not turn against or exclude anyone.
    Regional cooperation is always open to all. However, with one basic pre-condition: To respect international law and the principles of good neighborliness.
    Does Greece expect help from Israel in dealing with Turkey? It is common knowledge that Cyprus would turn to on Israel should Turkey attempt to hurt its gas supply interests.
    Turkey is undermining stability in the region. It aims to control politically and militarily the entire area of Eastern Mediterranean.
    In their own words, they want to have a say, they want to be the determining factor, in any decision made for and in our region.
    This is unacceptable for all countries cherishing their sovereignty and independence, for which they fought.
    Turkey is welcome to give up its imperial pipe-dreams and become part of our area of cooperation. But, only as an equal, lawful partner, not as the neighborhood bully.
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    נשיא טורקיה רג'פ טאיפ ארדואן עם נשיא רוסיה ולדימיר פוטין ב קרמלין מוסקבה דיון על המצב ב סוריה
    נשיא טורקיה רג'פ טאיפ ארדואן עם נשיא רוסיה ולדימיר פוטין ב קרמלין מוסקבה דיון על המצב ב סוריה
    Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan meeting with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin in Moscow
    (Photo: AP)
    What is the Greek stance on the issue of Israel's West Bank annexation plan, which will be dealt with soon by the EU? Will Greece try to stop an attempt to impose sanctions on Israel if it does decide to pursue annexation?
    There is nothing we would like to see more than Israelis and Palestinians living side by side in peace and security. And we would be willing to make every effort to support this vision coming true.
    This is why we would much rather see engagement and dialogue instead of unilateral actions from either side, which could jeopardize the future. During this visit I want to listen to the Israeli leadership’s views and discuss about what we can do on this issue.
    I will also talk with [Palestinian] President [Mahmoud] Abbas once I return to Athens. I will reiterate Greece’s readiness, both bilaterally but also as a member of the EU, to assist in any way possible in resuming dialogue.
    I know that a solution to the conflict is more than urgent. Yet I am convinced that only a mutually acceptable solution can also be a viable one.

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    אנטישמיות בית הקברות היהודי ב אתונה יוון צלב קרס קהילה היהודית יהודית יהודים
    אנטישמיות בית הקברות היהודי ב אתונה יוון צלב קרס קהילה היהודית יהודית יהודים
    A desecrated Jewish gravestone at a cemetery in Athens
    What are your thoughts on the rise of anti-Semitism in Europe, including Greece, and how is your government dealing with it?
    The rise of xenophobia, racism, and anti-Semitism is a reality in Europe and in the world. It has to be confronted head-on.
    In Greece populist voices have lost ground. Moderation and reason have prevailed.
    Both the Greek government and society consider every single incident of racist violence not only an unacceptable criminal act, but also an assault on human dignity.
    Israel and Greece are working together to combat anti-Semitism, while the Greek Jewish community is a precious integral part of Greek society as a whole, whose traditions are cherished and celebrated.
    As Greeks, we consider it our duty to keep the memory of the Holocaust alive. The memory of these tragic events must remain indelible so as to ensure that latter-day fascists find no fertile ground for spreading the ideology of hatred that they represent and that they continue to be defeated.
    This purpose will be served by the Holocaust Museum currently under construction in Thessaloniki and the new permanent Greek exhibition at Auschwitz.
    In the same context, Greece will be holding the presidency of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) in 2021.
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