In Athens, Rivlin asks Greeks to help end ‘crisis’ with Palestinians
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In Athens, Rivlin asks Greeks to help end ‘crisis’ with Palestinians

Israel’s president says ‘denial of Israel’s right to exist is the main obstacle we face,’ tells counterpart of need to combat rising anti-Semitism

President Reuven Rivlin reviews the Presidential Guard, during a welcome ceremony by his Greek counterpart, Prokopis Pavlopoulos, in Athens, January 29, 2018. (AP Photo/Thanassis Stavrakis)
President Reuven Rivlin reviews the Presidential Guard, during a welcome ceremony by his Greek counterpart, Prokopis Pavlopoulos, in Athens, January 29, 2018. (AP Photo/Thanassis Stavrakis)

President Reuven Rivlin met with Greek leaders Monday during a three-day visit to Greece, asking them to help convince the Palestinians to return to the peace process and describing the current situation as “a serious crisis.”

Rivlin met with his counterpart Procopis Pavlopoulos, and with Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras.

“We are in a serious crisis between us and the Palestinians, and the Greek government can be a real force in influencing our neighbors and persuading them to return to the negotiating table. We must learn to live together,” he told Tsipras.

Greece has traditionally had close ties to the Palestinians, and recent years have seen ties with Israel improve dramatically, with the two countries sharing a wide range of common interests in the eastern Mediterranean.

Since US President Donald Trump’s December 6 recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has refused to engage in American-led peace talks, saying the US is not an honest broker.

He has also refused to meet with senior White House officials, including US Vice President Mike Pence, and cursed Trump in a speech earlier this month, in which he also called a peace plan being formulated by the US, the “slap of the century.”

Rivlin referred to the debate in light of Trump’s recognition and previous UNESCO resolutions minimizing Jewish ties to the city.

“There is no one in the world who does not know Athens is the capital of Greece, no one in the world who does not know Rome is the capital of Italy, and not even UNESCO will convince anyone in the world that Jerusalem is not the capital of Israel,” he said.

“Denial of Israel’s right to exist is the main obstacle we face,” Rivlin said. “We can talk about anything, but if there are people on the other side who challenge our right to exist, we will not remain silent or stand idly by.”

Pavlopoulos noted the growing bond between Athens and Jerusalem.

“Your visit to Greece takes place at a time when our ties are at a truly remarkable level, and, over time, these ties are becoming increasingly beneficial for our countries,” the Greek president added, expressing support for close ties between Israel and the European Union.

Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras right, shakes hands with President Reuven Rivlin, prior to their meeting in Athens, Monday, January 29, 2018. (AP Photo/Petros Giannakouris) 

Rivlin’s visit, his first to Greece as president, will include a foundation stone-laying ceremony on Tuesday, for a Holocaust museum in the northern city of Thessaloniki to mark International Holocaust Remembrance Day.

“We are full of appreciation for your initiative to establish a Holocaust museum in Greece, and we want to express the thanks of all mankind for your clear statement: ‘never again.'”

“‘Never again’ is relevant not only to the victims, but also to all nations with a problem of racism and anti-Semitism. It is essential today more than ever to remember the lessons of the Holocaust, and the Jews of Greece who lost their lives. Only through education can we halt the rising wave of anti-Semitism and hatred,” he said.

The Jewish community of Thessaloniki, was one of the most important centers of Sephardic Jewry for 450 years following the expulsion from Spain. Known as the Flower of the Balkans, it was the center of Ladino culture in the region.

Thessaloniki’s 55,000-strong Jewish population was deported by Nazi forces during World War II, and most of its members were murdered in German concentration camps.

Thessaloniki’s new museum will be built next to the railway station where the city’s Jews boarded the trains taking them to the camps.

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