The exercise of summitry – and Greek foreign policy in the Middle East

by Antonis D. Papagiannidis


Greek P.M. Kyriakos Mitsotakis joined the Cairo Peace Summit, a conference of mainly Arab and European leaders and officials trying to de-escalate the Israel-Hamas conflagration and to avoid a generalised war flare-up in the Middle East.

By a peculiar turn of things, the Cairo Summit was attended by three Greek dignitaries: Mitsotakis was joined by Cypriot President Nikos Christodoulidis, but also by European Commission Vice-President Margaritis Schinas, standing in for Commission President Ursula von der Leyen (who was pushed aside having earlier occupied too much of the European limelight in matters pertaining to foreign policy). The EU was mainly represented by European Council President Charles Michel and High Representative for Foreign Affairs Josep Borrell.

The Summit, convened by Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, was shunned by central actors to the conflict: Israel, the U.S. (represented by their Chargé d’ Affaires in Cairo), and surely Iran. The level of attendees to the Summit was lower than initially expected, since most European countries (Italy and Spain were the exceptions: Georgia Meloni and Pedro Sanchez were there) opted for participation at Foreign Minister level, if not lower; China participated with its special envoy for Middle East issues, Russia with a deputy Foreign Minister. Most Arab States opted for highest-level participation.

At the end of the day, the Cairo Summit was rather underwhelming as an event, since there was not a real effort to push for a ceasefire, or for a “humanitarian break in hostilities”; not even a joint communiqué was agreed upon. The forum served – at the very least – for Western participants to realise the depth of Arab resentment. Also, for the lack of coherence of the EU in crucial foreign policy issues to surface – again. As to mediation efforts they had already shifted elsewhere – to Egypt, plus American and Qatari pressure brought to bear on the Israelis and Hamas:  freeing two American-passport-holders women hostages was the first tangible result; opening the Rafah crossing for relief operations to crawl forward was the follow-up to that..

As to post-Summit pronouncement, one of the best truisms came from K. Mitsotakis: “No military intervention can replace a viable political solution”. This was a clear shift from the original Greek position. That is, to side unequivocally and unreservedly with Israel after the brutal Hamas assault/invasion: the blast to the Gazan al-Ahli (Church of England Mission) Arab Hospital, later on the destruction of the (Greek-Orthodox) Saint Porphyrius Church may have been at the root of such shift –  notwithstanding the ongoing row over who bears blame for such destruction (Israeli missile hits or stray Palestinian rockets!) If one looks for the effective reason for the amendment in Greek positions, one would have to peer closer at the corresponding earlier shift in the European stance: from unconditional support to Israel and its right to bring retribution to Gaza to a more balanced mention that the “law of war” should be respected by IDF operations.

An earlier “Greek initiative” for the Middle East soon faded out of sight; Greek support to the Arab world “legitimate” aspiration for a (shared) permanent seat at the UN. Security council was put on hold

Greece, ever since the end of WW-II, was a steadfast ally of West – or rather a participant to the Western camp, post-Yalta. Notwithstanding such anchor, the background of history and traditional relations kept always Greece close to the Arab world – as was also the case for Russia. In Greece’s post-dictatorship foreign relations, emblematic politicians such as Constantine Karamanlis or Andreas Papandreou cultivated the ties with the Arab world and with the USSR (later on with Russia), opting for a “multi-faceted and balanced foreign policy” – with Israel gaining ground in importance in the balance attempted. The latest of such policy was seen under P.M. Costas Karamanlis (2004-09).

More recently, the balance tilted towards a more one-sided adherence to the Western camp – with spikes of over-zealous statements. Especially in the context of war in Ukraine following the Russian invasion, the Greek Government was anxious to declare Greece would side with “the right side of history” and remained in such a position even when EU countries had started to fudge their own stance.

On the Israel/Palestine front the official Ministry of Foreign Affairs position started with at tweet stating that “Greece strongly condemns launch of heavy rocket attack from Gaza against Israel. Greece stands with Israel”. The Greek Parliament was lit over with the Israel flag, following the example of the Brandenburg Gate and of the EU Headquarters (with a two-to-three days lag). But then, the MFA felt compelled to remind in its official webside the world – and, presumably, Greeks – that “relations between Greece and Palestine have always been and remain excellent”.

Moreover “Greece firmly supports the creation of an independent, viable, contiguous and democratic Palestinian State to co-exist peacefully with Israel”. All of which, referring to “institution-building in Palestine, which is also a priority for the international community and the EU in particular” [In all of this one can see the evolution of the EU initial prioritization of Israel’s right to self-defense by Commission President von der Leyen, even to the point of vowing to hold back aid to Gaza to more balanced positions making reference to international law/laws of war in Israeli bombardments against Gaza, in evacuation orders etc].

And so it goes…