Will Greece Betray the Palestinians?

For 70 years, Greece and Palestine have been close friends and allies. Will short-term economic interests between Greece and Israel lead Greece's leaders to abandon us?

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Greece's Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras meets with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, Ramallah, West Bank, November 26, 2015.
Greece's Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras meets with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, Ramallah, West Bank, November 26, 2015. Credit: AP
Nabil Sha'ath
Nabil Sha'ath

Built on common experience, long-term interests and moral principles, Palestine’s relationship with Greece goes back a long way. Short-term economic gains should not be allowed to damage this deep and precious friendship.

Over the last 70 years, the relationship of Greece and Palestine was that of close friendship and political alliance. Part of our ancestral origin can be traced back to the Greek island of Crete. We raise the Greek flag on all our Orthodox churches, to which most of our Christians belong. We were grateful to Greece for its reception of Yasser Arafat, our leader, and his forces, evacuated from Beirut in 1982 after its long siege by Israel.

As Foreign Minister, I worked very hard to support Greece in the Arab and Muslim world, both economically and politically. The close bond shared between Papandreou and Arafat, and between me and his son George, reflected a long lasting friendship between Palestine and Greece.

As Palestinians, we stood with Greece against the Turkish occupation of northern Cyprus. In my capacity as Foreign minister of Palestine (1994-2005), my instructions were very clear: To stand against any recognition of a separatist state in the North of Cyprus, particularly within the Arab League, and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), where we had some moral and political influence. The friendship was mutual and it was not limited to a particular political party. It was a friendship among peoples: Greeks, and Palestinians.

As Greece joined the EU, it became one of our closest allies within the EU, supporting our quest for a peaceful political solution, and standing by us when Israel violated its commitments, whether by continuing to expropriate land and water, destroying the Gaza Strip, or denying us the State we had accepted on 22% of our homeland. Our Greek ally stood by the principles and commitments that brought us together for 70 years.

Lately, and regrettably, this relationship has begun to change. One understands the importance of economic and political interests in the formation and shifts of political alliances. Today, Greece and Israel are linked by certain issues, including natural gas, oil, geopolitical influences, and financial crises. 

We understand. Such connections are not unique to Greece and Israel. However, short-term changes in economic interests and political positions do not change important facts, such as the fact that Israel occupied Palestine, and which of the two countries is being warned against becoming an apartheid state. Changes in economic interests do not change international law, justice and human rights.

Yasser Arafat attends a news conference with Greek Foreign Minister George Papandreou in Ramallah, May 13, 2003.Credit: Reuters

Several countries, including the BRICS or France, have common economic and political interests with Israel, but their position the necessity to end the Israeli colonial settlement project, and its military occupation, has not changed.

We were given assurances by the leaders of Greece that their closer relationship with Israel would not change their commitments to Palestine, nor would it adversely affect their historical relationship with Palestine and the extended Arab/Muslim world.

The support of the Greek people to Palestine was reaffirmed by the December vote in the Greek Parliament, attended by President Abbas, of a resolution that unanimously called upon the Greek government to recognize the State of Palestine. The government, however, refused to implement that resolution.

A turning point took place on January 17th during the meeting of the European Union Council of Foreign Relations. This showed a complete change in Greece’s lobbying activities within the EU. On that occasion the Greek Foreign Minister frustrated many of his European colleagues, and almost succeeded on pushing the Israeli line in the Conclusions document, trying to soften language on Israel's colonial settlements in Occupied Palestine.

Statements attributed to Greek leaders, announcing their refusal to implement the EU directive on the labeling of settlement products, were shocking, but they were explained, and corrected eventually. A statement by Mr. Tsipras supporting the Israeli claim that all of Jerusalem was the historical capital of the State of Israel, ignoring Palestinian rights to Jerusalem, were even more shocking. The Greek explanation was that the reference was historical and not political. In Israel and Palestine, everything historical is Political. Though later on a Greek spokesman reiterated their commitment to an independent State of Palestine with East Jerusalem as its capital, the original statement was not retracted. We’re still waiting for an explanation.

News about further military cooperation between Greece and Israel are equally alarming to the Palestinians.

We do not want to abandon our friendship with Greece, nor do we want to see a shift away from the strategic relationships that link Greece to the Arab and Muslim world, particularly with Egypt and the Gulf countries.

I am sure the majority of the Greek people share my feelings about that relationship. We do not change our moral commitments and principles for a temporary shift in economic interests. We expect Greece to remain committed to these shared principles.

Dr. Nabil Sha'ath is the Fatah International Relations Commissioner and former Palestinian foreign minister (1994-2005).

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