NEW YORK (Dec. 15)
Greek Prime Minister Constantine Mitsotakis will visit Israel early next year, culminating the rapid improvement in ties between the two countries since his conservative New Democratic Party assumed power in April 1990.
Speaking here Sunday to members of the American Jewish Committee, the prime minister offered to host the ongoing Middle East peace talks, specifically suggesting the island of Rhodes, site of the negotiations leading to the 1949 armistice agreements between Israel and its neighbors.
“We are interested in playing a role in this — the role of friends,” he said, referring to the negotiations.
“We stand with Israel on every issue,” the Greek leader said, as he announced that his country was co-sponsoring the U.N. measure repealing the General Assembly’s 1975 resolution denigrating Zionism as racism.
The Greek leader stressed both what he described as ancient ties between the Jewish and Greek peoples, and his own support for Israel.
One of the first acts of the Mitsotakis government was to recognize Israel, which the prime minister had previously visited as a member of the opposition.
“I can assure you the reaction of the Greek people to this decision was 100 percent positive,” said Mitsotakis, who spoke through a translator.
“It’s important American Jews understand the profound changes in Greece since April 1990,” said David Harris, executive vice president of AJCommittee.
“We really should forget the unpleasant period behind us,” the prime minister said, referring to the reign of his Socialist predecessor, Andreas Papandreou, who won a reputation of protecting terrorists.
Mitsotakis assured the breakfast audience that Greece is now working closely with the United States to fight terrorism, a policy manifested last week with the signing of an order to extradite Palestinian terrorist Abdulrahim Khaled to Italy. Khaled faces a life sentence there for plotting the 1985 hijacking of the Italian cruise ship Achille Lauro.
The prime minister suggested that some of his attitudes toward Israel and the Jewish community may derive from his experiences during World War II. An active leader of the anti-Nazi resistance in Crete, he was twice arrested and sentenced to death.
The Greek leader asked for Jewish cooperation in economic investment and tourism.
Mitsotakis specifically asked that Jewish groups consider including a visit to Greece among the events scheduled next year to commemorate the 500th anniversary of the expulsion from Spain. He pointed out that Greece received a large influx of Jews following the expulsion.