Netanyahu Aims to Restart Israel–Greece Tourism by August

June 17, 2020

by: Kate Norman

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On average, more than a million Israelis vacation in Greece every year.

Wednesday, 17 June 2020 | In the biggest diplomatic visit to the Jewish state since the start of the corona crisis, Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis with his delegation in tow met with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and their Israeli counterparts to discuss reopening tourism, among other subjects.

The goal for Israel is to allow tourists who visit Greece and Cyprus to return to Israel without being required to enter into quarantine by August 1, Netanyahu announced at a joint press conference with his Greek counterpart on Tuesday.

“We are looking now into reopening tourism, in which case Greece and Cyprus will be the first,” Netanyahu said. When that happens and which countries will be allowed to enter Israel depends on the infection rate of each country involved, he noted.

The European Union plans to reopen the borders of member states for travel on July 1, and Mitsotakis was seeking for Israel to open up as well.

Israel’s borders have been closed to tourists and non-citizens since the height of the pandemic in March. A recent spike in new infections has raised concern that the Jewish state might enter a second round of lockdowns.

The Israeli prime minister noted that this was among the first government-to-government meetings during the pandemic.

“It reflects the fact that we both have been quite successful in battling the corona pandemic,” Netanyahu said, “and it also reflects the tremendous friendship that is building between Israel and Greece.”

The two prime ministers also discussed the EastMed pipeline, which will transfer gas to Europe from the eastern Mediterranean. Israel inked an agreement with Greece and Cyprus on the project in January, which Netanyahu yesterday called the “most important project” for Israel and Greece.

Turkey, who has laid claim to some of the territory that the pipeline will pass through—a claim that goes unrecognized by most nations—and objects to the project. Mitsotakis condemned Turkey’s actions while speaking warm words of Greece’s ties with Israel.

“We value and cherish the Greek–Israeli relationship on its own merits and its own rights,” Mitsotakis said. “We have national interests in mind, and it is easier to cooperate with countries that share our basic values.”

The Israeli prime minister had another pertinent subject to discuss with his Greek counterpart. As Netanyahu pushes to apply Israeli sovereignty to 30% of Judea and Samaria in line with the US peace plan, he is running into pushback from the European Union and its member states. The EU has met several times to discuss measures to discourage Israel from proceeding, including imposing sanctions on the Jewish state.

However, such a measure would require a unanimous vote from the 27 EU member states. Netanyahu seized the opportunity during the Greek prime minister’s visit to rally another friend within the European bloc—if not to fully support Israel’s move for sovereignty, then at least to refrain from voting on any punitive measures against Israel.

“Our request to Greece is to support us at the EU level, to make sure the European Union has sensible language when dealing with the peace plan,” an unnamed Israeli source told AFP.

The president of Cyprus will visit Israel next week, and most likely have similar discussions.

Posted on June 17, 2020

Source: (Bridges for Peace, June 17, 2020)

Photo Credit: Alex Blăjan/unsplash.com