ATHENS (Nov. 24)
The Greek government of Prime Minister Andreas Papandreou is serious about improving its relations with Israel, according to Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres.
The news was welcomed by the Central Jewish Board of Greece, the umbrella organization representing Greek Jewry.
“Although Greek Jews have no problem in Greece, it is nice, for this community that has a 2,300-year presence here, to see an improvement in bilateral relations,” said Nissim Mais, the president of the Jewish board.
Peres made the observation here Wednesday, the last day of his visit to Athens.
The day before, Peres had met with top Greek officials including Papandreou, who had served as Greece’s prime minister during the 1980s.
In 1989, Papandreou’s Socialist government was defeated by the Conservatives, headed by Constantine Mitsotakis, but Papandreou was returned to power in elections earlier this year.
During his previous tenure as prime minister, Papandreou had been sympathetic to the cause of the Palestine Liberation Organization and was highly critical of Israel.
But that has changed, Peres said.
“The Socialist party of 1993 is completely different from the previous Socialist party (of the 1980s) that was very close to the PLO and very cold with Israel,” he said.
SOCIALISTS OF ’93 COMPLETELY DIFFERENT
Greece and Israel reached agreements on cultural and scientific cooperation, Peres said.
“Both countries have pledged to act toward peace and development in the Middle East as both our peoples are parts of the same history and share a common sea and a common future,” he said.
Peres attributed the shift in attitude of the government to the self-rule accord Israel and the PLO signed in Washington on Sept. 13.
Peres’ two-day trip, which ended Wednesday, coincided with the arrival of PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat, prompting speculation that the two leaders would meet. They did not.
But Peres phoned Arafat while on his way to the airport to depart for a tour of other European capitals this week.
Peres later termed their brief conversation “a courtesy call.”
In the official program of events issued by the Greek Foreign Ministry, Arafat was referred to as the “president of the Palestinian National Authority,” rather than as the chairman of the PLO.
At a news conference, Arafat was asked whether he thought the Likud party would revoke the self-rule accord if it returned to power in Israel.
“This treaty is not the property of (Prime Minister Yitzhak) Rabin or mine or any other party,” he said. “This treaty is the property of the entire world,” he said.