Knesset Speaker Yuli Yoel Edelstein met on Monday with Greek opposition leader Kyriakos Mitsotakis. ”I have heard many good things about your political activity and support for Israel,” Edelstein told his guest at the onset of the meeting, which took place in the Speaker`s bureau.
Edelstein mentioned that he is scheduled to travel to Greece next week for a series of official meetings at the Hellenic Parliament. ”We have many issues on the agenda, particularly in light of the situation in the region, the development of the relations between our countries over the past few years, and the cooperation between Israel, Greece and Cyprus,” Edelstein told Mitsotakis and members of his delegation.
(Kyriakos Mitsotakis, left, with Yuli-Yoel Edelstein)
Mitsotakis, chairman of the ”New Democracy” party, has been an MP since 2004 and leader of the opposition since January 2016. His father, Konstantinos Mitsotakis, was Prime Minister of Greece from 1990 to 1993. Mitsotakis mentioned that his father`s first decision as premier in 1990 was to officially recognize the State of Israel.
”This led to a very strong strategic partnership between Greece and Israel, and I am pleased to report that this policy receives cross-party support and that the current government continues to implement it,” Mitsotakis said, adding that with time, the relations between the countries will become more and more economic in nature. In this regard, he noted the importance of increasing Israeli investments in Greece, ”provided that we create a stable economic atmosphere.”
Mitsotakis said the Greek economy would remain in recession throughout 2016, while the forecast for 2017 is ”uncertain.” He also mentioned that while in Tel Aviv on Sunday he visited a number of startup companies. ”This field interests me very much, mainly due to my previous work in venture capital. I see quite a number of sectors, beyond tourism, where we can promote tighter economic cooperation,” he told the Knesset Speaker.
Addressing the migrant crisis in Europe, Mitsotakis said: ”It appears that the agreement between the European Union and Turkey is working for the moment, from a deterrence standpoint, but it is fragile.”
Edelstein stated that the advantages of the relations between Israel and Greece, namely the geographical proximity and shared values, ”are so obvious that they should push us to strengthen cooperation in the economic, cultural and tourism fields.”
Edelstein said, ”We can gain a lot from this cooperation. The parliaments have a key role to play,” and suggested that other countries be asked to join the ventures. ”It will be much easier for open-minded Arab parliamentarians to take part in a meeting with the Greek Parliament and the Knesset that deals with water resources, the environment, agriculture or the technologies you mentioned, than to come here, to the Knesset Speaker`s bureau, and begin direct talks,” he continued to say. ”When parliaments cooperate, they do not need to immediately inform the media that a peace agreement has been signed or that there is agreement on future borders.”
Mitsotakis told Edelstein that he too ”is a big believer in parliamentary diplomacy,” which ”often times gives us more leeway.”
Responding to Mitsotakis`s question about the peace process, Speaker Edelstein said, ”I am a pessimist when it comes to the short term, because I do not believe there is a short cut that will lead us to signing a peace agreement tomorrow. But I am optimistic about the long term. I do not believe in peace with dictators. Dictators eventually fall, and then who knows what is left of these peace agreements. But when it is based on a strong platform of inter-parliamentary ties, with many measures taken before the signing ceremony – in these cases we can be much more optimistic about the agreements.”
”For many years, decades even, some of the region`s countries would tell us they would cooperate with us only after we settle the conflict with the Palestinians. But today, due to a number of negative things such as a joint enemy, the Iranian nuclear threat or ISIS and all that is happening around it – suddenly countries are finding that cooperating with Israel is in their best interest,” said the Knesset Speaker.
”This is mainly true when it comes to security-related issues, but if we can take it to the next level and initiate joint parliamentary and economic measures, this would change the surroundings, and instead of having a certain Palestinian leadership dictate that nothing will happen until they receive 120 percent of what they ask for and the region will be a `hostage` of the process, serious regional players will say, `we do not want to neglect your interests; we want you to be a part of this cooperation and these talks.` If this will be the situation, we will be able to be cautiously optimistic.”
”We are slowly getting there, and there are international organizations that are finally accepting this approach,” Edelstein said, while mentioning the recent successful meeting in Geneva between Israeli and Arab parliamentarians, who discussed water resources in the region.
”The Israelis will not disappear, and the Arabs will not disappear, so we must find a way to coexist and function together,” Edelstein told Mitsotakis.