New Greek government’s pro-Palestine stance not as strong as Israelis fear

by Middle East Monitor

The parochial Israeli press has been reacting with concern to the election victory in Greece of Syriza, the left-wing anti-austerity party. While the parochial British press has been fretting about the “collision course” that Syriza has supposedly set the country on with Europe, or with “the markets,” in Israel journalists have been spilling ink over what this means for Israel.

The consensus there seems to be that this is bad news. And, indeed, they have a point.

The party’s 2012 “40-point programme” called for the “abolition of military cooperation with Israel” as part of a wider anti-militarist stance. It also called for the withdrawal of Greek troops from Afghanistan and the Balkans, as part of the principle of “no Greek soldiers beyond our own borders”. It even called for the closure of all foreign bases in the country and the withdrawal of Greece from NATO.

For a pro-NATO, warmongering state like Israel, such sensible measures no doubt cause alarm. Since the 2007 election victory of the conservative New Democracy party, the Greek state grew closer to Israel, conducting various naval and air force joint training exercises between 2010 and 2013. Syriza’s opposition to such cooperation could change the course of the country’s relations with Israel and the Palestinians.

Another factor that may be keeping Zionist fanatics in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem awake at night right now is the roots Syriza has in popular mobilisations of the Greek people, who are overwhelmingly opposed to Israeli aggression and war crimes. MP Theodoris Dritsas, a minister in the new government, participated in a 2011 flotilla that attempted to break the illegal Israeli siege on the Gaza Strip.

Dritsas is, rather ironically for Israel, the new alternate minister for shipping – which may add some impediments to any future Israeli attempts to block Greek boats sailing to Gaza (as was done by Shurat HaDin, the Mossad-linked legal front, which tied one such boat up in legal red tape, preventing its departure).

Last year Syriza, then in opposition, condemned Israel’s assault on Gaza and called for an immediate ceasefire to “stop the massacre in the Gaza Strip”. Their leader Alexis Tsipras, the new prime minister, said at the time: “Seeing Israel killing children in Palestine is unacceptable. We should unite our voices and forces so as to live in peace, expressing our solidarity to the Palestinian people”.

The PFLP, Palestine’s main Marxist-Leninist party, has welcomed the Syriza victory, while cautioning that “these parliamentary elections do not constitute a revolution”.

Indeed, there are many reasons for caution.

Syriza came just shy of the 151 seats needed in the 300-seat parliament that would have allowed it to rule in a one-party government, so have had to do a deal with the right-wing, (anti-bailout) party Independent Greeks. Their leader Panos Kammenos has just been given the defence portfolio, so will have a lot of say in any realignment of Greek relations with Israel.

Secondly, the party’s policy on Palestine seems deeply flawed on a fundamental level. Although, as mentioned, its 2012 elections document did indeed call for an end to military cooperation with Israel, it also called for “support for creation of a Palestinian state within the 1967 borders” – with nothing said at all about the rights of Palestinians within the 1948 borders (“Israel”) or of the millions of Palestinian refugees who are blocked from the country altogether.

The statement Syriza put out last year condemning Israel’s war on Gaza conspicuously failed to reiterate its 2012 demand to end military ties with Israel. Even more worryingly, it continued on the mistaken line of argument seen in the 2012 document with a call for recognition of “the territorial integrity of both states, the state of Israel and the Palestinian state”.

As Ali Abunimah has argued, the call to “recognise” Israel is nothing short of a call to recognise the “right” of Israel to be a racist apartheid state in law and in practice. Recognising a truncated “Palestine” within small parts of the West Bank is ultimately part of this same project. Syriza’s stance on Israel then, seems not to be very different from more right-wing European social democratic parties like the UK’s Labour party or the French Socialist Party (although they have far stronger pro-Israel histories).

Finally, there was one further worrying sign of Syriza compromising on Israel, which was seen in the Israeli press this week. A former Israeli ambassador to Greece wrote a piece which, while overall lamenting Syriza’s win, concluded with a cautious note of optimism (from his perspective). He recounted that in 2012 he arranged a meeting between Tsipras, then newly the head of the opposition, and then Israeli president Shimon Peres – who is well respected in Israel, and has a bloody history as a war criminal.

Arye Mekel, the former ambassador, claimed that the meeting went “very well” and Tsipras listened to Peres “like a pupil before his teacher, and avoided criticism of Israel”.

This may be an optimistic gloss of Mekel’s making. But considering the immense challenges the left-wing party now faces in government, promoting Palestinian rights is unlikely to be high on the agenda.

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