Greece officially starts using term ‘Palestine’

Palestine is ‘in our hearts,’ FM Kotzias says, hailing ‘centuries-old’ political ties,’ but stopping short of full recognition

Raphael Ahren is the diplomatic correspondent at The Times of Israel.

Syriza party leader Alexis Tsipras greets supporters following victory in the election in Athens, Greece, on January 25, 2015. (AFP/Aris Messinis)
Syriza party leader Alexis Tsipras greets supporters following victory in the election in Athens, Greece, on January 25, 2015. (AFP/Aris Messinis)

Although they haven’t affirmed full, official recognition of a Palestinian state, Greek officials recently started referring to “Palestine.” The country’s prime minister actually used the term “State of Palestine” in a tweet Monday that was later deleted.

“At the Greek Foreign Ministry, we decided to issue instructions throughout the Greek public administration for the uniform use of the term ‘Palestine’ when we refer to our friendly country,” Foreign Minister Nikos Kotzias said Monday during a meeting with his Palestinian counterpart Riyad al-Maliki.

“Palestine is a country that is in our hearts, in our minds,” Kotzias said at the Foreign Ministry in Athens. “It has followed us since the years of our adolescence and youth as a dream of freedom, democracy and rights.”

During a press conference with al-Maliki, Kotzias referred to his guest as “His Excellency, the foreign minister of Palestine,” and promised to create a “Friends of Palestine” group in the European Union.

Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras on Monday mentioned the “State of Palestine” in a tweet about his meeting with al-Maliki. The tweet was deleted a few hours after it was posted and replaced with a similar tweet that merely referred to “Palestine.” Tsipras’s diplomatic adviser also called the Israeli embassy in Athens and apologized for the use of the term “State of Palestine.”

Israel has fought international recognition of a Palestinian state, insisting that such recognition only come as part of a comprehensive peace deal.

Last October, Sweden became the first major Western European nation to officially recognize the “State of Palestine,” a move that greatly angered Jerusalem.

The Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem did not respond to a request for comment on Greece’s new position.

During the joint press conference Monday, Kotzias said he looked forward to implementing a memorandum of understanding on “political consultations” between the Greek and Palestinian foreign ministries. He also vowed to increase financial aid to Palestinian students, despite his country’s current financial difficulties.

“We have centuries-old political and historical ties, and the country’s support for the Palestinian cause is well known,” he added.

Kotzias, who was an international relations professor before he became foreign minister in late January, said that his government — in addition to himself, personally — firmly supports a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. “The two-state solution is a solution that will bring peace to the region, takes away the extremists’ arguments, safeguards the rights of Palestine and the Palestinian people, and provides guarantees for the existence of Israel itself,” he stated.

Al-Maliki said that “there are steps that will be undertaken in order to solidify, to strengthen, to deepen and to widen our bilateral relations in different aspects.” He also said that Athens and Ramallah will see “if there are various new agreements that we could also bring in that will deepen the relationship between the two countries.”

The Palestinian foreign minister said that comments by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and members of his government “are not encouraging at all,” but expressed hope that the international community will seek to salvage the peace process.

The “commitments” he heard from Kotzias made him optimistic, added al-Maliki, that “at the end of this process there is certain optimism, and that really makes me feel that things could be changed, based on such statements and such commitment.”

Nikos Kotzias (photo credit: Courtesy)
Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Kotzias (Courtesy)

Greece’s current government is understood to be very critical of Israeli policies vis-à-vis the Palestinians. During last summer’s Gaza war, Prime Minister Tsipras said Israel’s “brutality cannot be tolerated.” Senior members of his far-left Syriza party, which holds an almost absolute majority in parliament, participated in the 2010 flotilla, which sought to break Israel’s naval blockade on Gaza and resulted in a deadly clash between Turkish activists and Israeli troops. One of the party’s delegates to the European Parliament is said to be openly sympathetic to Hamas.

However, Greek government officials and representatives of the Jewish community said relations between Athens and Jerusalem will remain friendly, as both sides value the “strategic importance” of increased bilateral cooperation.

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