Greece: A role in Middle East peace or in Israeli wars?
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Greece: A role in Middle East peace or in Israeli wars?

First published in Dromos newspaper, Greece.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was right to describe his visit this Monday to Greece as of ‘historic importance’. Just like the visit of his Greek counterpart to Israel in July this year, Netanyahu’s visit was the first ever official visit at this level. Perhaps more significantly, this apparent strengthening of ties comes at a time when foreign ministries all over the world are reconsidering, even downgrading, their relationship with Israel.

The Israeli war against Lebanon in 2006 that levelled entire villages in the south of the country and large neighbourhoods in Beirut, the 2008/9 attack on Gaza that cost the lives of over 1,400 people and most recently the lethal attack on the ‘Freedom Flotilla’, an attempt by international human rights defenders to bring humanitarian aid to the besieged Strip and break the siege, have all played their part in a generating tidal shift in the way Israel is viewed on the international stage. Decades of internationally backed negotiations have done nothing to bring justice to Palestine, illegal Israeli settlements and the Wall continue to grow, the medieval siege on Gaza continues unabated and Israeli parliamentarians are making fresh calls for attacks on Lebanon and Iran. The urgency for Israel to be held accountable for its violations of international law and Palestinian rights is becoming clearer to a growing section of European society.

Following the Palestinian civil society call for boycotts, divestment and sanctions against Israel until it complies with international law, a global movement has started to emerge. Inspired by the solidarity movement that contributed to the end of apartheid in South Africa, civil society is mobilizing. Amnesty International has called for an arms embargo against Israel(1). The UK government has revoked arms export licences(2), the Norwegian state pension fund has divested from a major Israeli arms company(3) and Turkey recently announced a freeze on its arms deals with Israel(4). Civil society pressure has led to the upgrade of the EU-Israel Association Agreement becoming stalled and the president of the UN General Assembly, Padre Miguel D’Escoto, called on the United Nations to “consider following the lead of a new generation of civil society, who are calling for a similar non-violent campaign of boycott, divestment and sanctions to pressure Israel to end its violations”(5).

It is in this context that Israel turns to Greece for much needed diplomatic and military support and a way to provoke the Turkish government to re-establish the once unshakable Turkey-Israel axis. Seemingly oblivious of its own historic struggle for independence and its principles of democracy and human rights, the Greek government seems only too happy to oblige, providing symbolic excursions for Netanyahu on an Israeli missile ship – just like those used to enforce the siege on Gaza. Greece is offering the airspace access Turkey has withdrawn and is ready to pick up suspended arms deals Israel needs to sustain its war economy and military aggression.

Palestinians have always deeply valued Greek support of their aspirations of self-determination and respect for their internationally sanctioned rights. The clear position against the recent attack on the Gaza Flotilla and the subsequent cancellation of a joint air force exercise in June was a sign for us that the Greek government still upholds the values of international law. Yet, it seems that the mutual visits of the prime ministers of Israel and Greece have more than reversed this policy.

Greek politicians are reported as arguing these new ties with Israel will help Greece to play a bigger role in the Middle East ‘peace process’. However, it is not clear how one can consider military ties and support to Israel to launch wars, commit war crimes and continue its occupation a way to strengthen the Greek role in bringing peace and justice to the region. The history of such ‘constructive engagement’ with Israel is the history of Israel reaping the benefits of close international ties on one hand, and continuing to ignore Palestinian demands for justice on the other. Instead we hope that the people of Greece will develop the campaigns necessary to prevent their government from strengthening military and economic ties with Israel. Such ties only embolden Israel, granting it implicit support for future impunity and aggression.