Search JTA's historical archive dating back to 1923

Greece Establishes Ties to Israel, First Time Since Israel’s Founding

May 23, 1990
See Original Daily Bulletin From This Date

Greece, fulfilling a promise by its new prime minister, has established full diplomatic relations with Israel.

The announcement was made Monday morning by Prime Minister Constantine Mitsotakis at a Cabinet meeting, and was formalized later in the day with the signing of a joint statement by Greece and Israel at European Community headquarters in Brussels.

Greece thereby became the last of the 12 E.C. member states to extend de jure, or legal. recognition to Israel.

Greece was the only European country that in 1947 opposed the U.N. plan for the partition of Palestine and voted with the Arabs. Greece still holds strong ties to Arab nations.

In an attempt to maintain an evenhanded policy toward Israel and the Arab states, Greece simultaneously upgraded the status of the Palestine Liberation Organization in Athens.

In addition, the announcement of improved diplomatic relations with Israel included a strong condemnation of Israel’s continued presence in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

The announcement also was accompanied by an affirmation of Greece’s “traditional policy of friendship and solidarity with the Arab world.”

Since the 1950s, Greece has recognized the existence of the Jewish state on a de facto basis, and low-level diplomatic relations have existed between the two nations.

Mitsotakis noted that his government’s decision to establish full ties with Israel had been announced before the April 8 elections that brought his conservative New Democratic Party to power, and was therefore “approved by the Greek people when it voted for us.”

He further noted that all E.C. governments and those of Eastern Europe “are rapidly recognizing Israel, one after the other.” He cited Bulgaria as the latest example.

“Greece may now play the role I think it should play in the Middle East region, without harboring any prejudice against one or the other side,” Mitsotakis said.


The Greek government expressed “deep concern over the deterioration of the situation in the occupied territories” and referred directly to the latest rioting touched off when a lone Jewish gunman killed seven Palestinian laborers and wounded 10 Monday near Rishon le-Zion.

Nevertheless, the establishment of full relations with Greece was the achievement of a long-sought diplomatic goal.

The agreement, which was signed at E.C. headquarters in Brussels, stipulated that the diplomatic missions of the two countries in Athens and Tel Aviv respectively would be elevated to the status of embassies, and the present chiefs of mission would be raised in rank to ambassador.

The Israeli ambassador to Greece is Moshe Gilboa, who has long held ambassadorial rank in the Israeli foreign service but could until now function in Athens only on the consular level.

Gilboa was present in Brussels when the joint statement was signed at the office of the Greek representative to the E.C.

The signatories were Reuven Merhav, director general of the Israeli Foreign Ministry, and Panayiotis Economou, secretary-general of the Greek Foreign Ministry.

The Brussels venue was maintained “for reasons of convenience,” Merhav told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

The joint statement said that “in accordance with the principle of maintaining friendly relations with all states, the government of the Hellenic Republic and the government of the State of Israel have decided to upgrade the current status of their diplomatic representation to that of embassies.

“Consequently, the heads of the above missions shall be regarded henceforth as the ambassadors of their countries.”

In a separate statement, Economou said: “Greece reiterates its longstanding position not to recognize any territorial acquisition by the threat or the use of force, and reaffirms that this is particularly applicable to the territories occupied by Israel since 1967.

“Furthermore,” the statement continued, “Greece is opposed to any unilateral change in the status of the city of Jerusalem.

“In this context, Greece condemns the Israeli settlement policy and practices in the occupied territories, which constitute a serious obstacle to achieving a comprehensive, just and lasting peace in the Middle East.”

(JTA correspondent Yossi Lempkowicz in Brussels contributed to this report.)

Recommended from JTA