Greece and Israel have announced a unique diaspora conference, the brainchild of former deputy leader of Victorian ALP and Greek Deputy Foreign Minister Dimitrios Dollis, to take place in Thessaloniki.
The idea, to discuss how Greece and Israel can strengthen their ties with their diaspora communities, isn’t Dollis’s only brainchild: he is also widely credited with being a major force behind Athens’ dramatic realignment of its foreign policy towards Israel.
Dimitri Dollis lived in Melbourne for 28 years and was a member of the Victorian Parliament and the ALP deputy leader.
“Dollis is one of Israel’s best friends in Greece,” said Aryeh Mekel, the Israeli envoy to Athens.
“He has been arguing for more than 20 years that Greece should get closer to Israel. He is a close associate of former prime minister George Papandreou, and was one of the architects of Greece’s decision to upgrade its relationship with Israel, which has only flourished since then.”
Dollis credits his time in Melbourne, where large Greek and Jewish communities work closely together on a number of issues, with planting the seed of the idea of greater Greek-Israeli cooperation.
“Our communities abroad have grown up together and cooperate, and it makes sense for us to do it here as well,” he said recently in an interview with The Jerusalem Post.
Asked what took so long, Dollis replied, “Strange things happen, and strange things don’t happen.”
He said that Greece had been preoccupied with other matters in the 1970s and 80s, including the country’s path to the EU.
“It doesn’t matter that it took so long,” he said of the dramatic warming of the relationship.
“What is important is that it taking place in a truthful manner, with an emphasis on the long run, not only on the present.”
Dollis returned to Greece in 1999 at a time when George Papandreou, then foreign minister, was trying to get Greek expatriates to return to the country.
Dollis became one of his advisers. When Papandreou became prime minister in 2009, he named Dollis deputy foreign minister.
Papandreou, with Dollis advising him, made a historic visit to Israel in 2010, signalling the significant upgrade in ties. While this improvement in relations came as Israeli-Turkish ties were already in a tailspin, Dollis denied that this was part of the equation in improving ties with Israel.
“If we try to build relationships on something temporary, then the foundations would not be real,” he said.
Dollis admits that some in the Arab world were surprised with the dramatic change in relations – there were nine Greek ministerial visits in 2011, contrasted with almost zero between 1991 and 2010 – but says he does not think the relationship cost Greece friendships elsewhere.
“You don’t lose friends by making new friends,” he said.
Explaining what Israel could provide Greece, Dollis mentioned the country’s expertise in agriculture, water management and technology.
He also said that there were tremendous opportunities for Israeli-Greek cooperation, along with Cyprus, in the energy sphere. With the huge discoveries in Israel’s territorial waters of natural gas, and significant discoveries off the coast of Cyprus as well, Greece is beginning the process of its own exploration efforts, and is interested in being an energy hub for Israeli and Cypriot gas exports.
“This offers huge opportunities,” Dollis said, adding that Greece could serve as a gateway to Europe. Concrete plans are premature to discuss, he added, since Israel has not yet determined whether it intended to export natural gas west to Europe, or east to Asia.
“We are developing plans to have Greece as a hub for energy distribution,” he said, adding that this was something Israel might take into consideration when considering its own plans.
Paradoxically, according to Dollis, the deep economic crisis in Greece was opening up investment opportunities for foreigners, since one of the EU’s conditions for assisting the country is that it privatises the economy.
Dollis expressed appreciation to Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu for extending a $100 million line of credit in September 2011 to Israeli businesses investing or trading with Greece.
As to what else Israel could do to help Greece overcome its present difficulties, Dollis said it was always good to have “friends speaking for you,” alluding to Israel’s ties with the US.
While acknowledging that Greece has very good ties with the US and does not need Israel as a channel to Washington, “it is always better to speak with more than one voice,” he said.
Regarding Iran, Dollis danced around the question about whether Athens was concerned about a possible Israeli strike, saying, “I have learned over the years not to worry about things that I don’t control.”
He acknowledged that Greece was hit hard by the EU decision to embargo Iranian oil, since over the past two to three years the country has become more dependent on Iran as a fuel source than other European countries because of its economic crisis.
Dollis said that Iran became a primary supplier of oil to Greece because it was willing to provide the best credit terms and lowest prices.
Even though Iran became the cheapest source of oil, and over the last two years has at times supplied some 50 percent of the country’s oil needs, Athens is now looking for alternative sources, primarily in Latin America and with the Saudis, said Dollis.
Greece is going along with the embargo decision regardless of the hardship, he stated, because there are some important decisions “you have to make,” and then figure out later ways to deal with their consequences.
Source: The Jerusalem Post