THE BLOG
01/30/2015 01:47 pm ET Updated Apr 01, 2015

New Greek PM Supports Palestinian Rights

The results of the snap elections in Greece, which propelled the leftist Syriza Party to power this week, sent shockwaves to many world capitals.

Alexis Tsipras, the new prime minister, has vowed to fulfill his electoral promises, including reversing the harsh austerity plans that Europe has imposed on his country.

French President Francoise Hollande was among the first leaders to congratulate the new Greek leader.

France and Spain are facing economic austerity plans similar to Greece's, and they will be watching carefully how Greece will deal with its major creditors, including Germany and the United Kingdom, who had engineered the very tough austerity plan that Tsipras used to vault into power.

While all the focus of the coverage of the Greek elections was on the economic policy, the radical leftist leader has been very vocal on where he sees his country's position regarding Israel and Palestine.

During his political life, and especially in the current election campaign, Tsipras has vowed to end Greece's military cooperation and joint exercise with Israel and to recognize the state of Palestine on the 1967 borders.

"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," Tsipras said during an anti-Israel demonstration in Athens last summer.

"When civilians and children are killed at beaches facing the same sea that borders on the European continent, we cannot remain passive, because if this happens on the other side of the Mediterranean today, it can happen on our own side tomorrow,'' he said in reference to Israel's killing of four Palestinian youths playing on the Gaza beach in August 2014.

If the Greek prime minister will recognize the state of Palestine, it will be the second European country to do so, following Sweden. It will likely encourage other reluctant countries to join as well.

Although Greece has traditionally been a big supporter of Palestinian rights, its actions in the last few years deviated from this path.

In 2011, Greece prevented a flotilla to ship out of its ports towards Gaza.

The newly elected Greek leader who does not wear a tie even to official events made history by refusing to have a religious swearing-in ceremony.

The Syriza leader paid a visit to Archbishop Leronymos to inform him that he will not be sworn in by him and will only be taking a political oath.

Tsipras also told the Greek Orthodox religious leader that he would not be needed at the swearing-in ceremony of the new government because the oath of Cabinet members will be political and not religious.

Many in the Middle East, especially in Palestine and Jordan, are trying to figure out what the distancing of the country's new leader from the powerful religious establishment will mean here.

The Orthodox Church has been directly connected to Greece since the 15th century; the last time it was led by an Arab patriarch, Atallah, was centuries ago. He died in 1492. Since then, every patriarch and most bishops have been Greek and they have used every trick in the book to keep the church in Greek hands.

Greece's flag flies over most Orthodox Church property despite the opposition of the local Arab congregations.

The Arab Orthodox community also accuses the Greek church leaderships of selling (it is actually long-term leases) historic church property and lands to the Israelis. (Israel's Knesset is built on property that is on a long-term lease from the church.)

A campaign against the current patriarch included public protests with signs reading "Undeserving".

Both Palestinian and Jordanian officials have been silent on the struggle against the patriarch.

It is not clear if the secular political powers in Athens can do anything about this current struggle between the Arab parish and the Greek religious leadership. But one thing is clear -- with secular Tsipras in power, it is unlikely that Athens will give automatic backing to the Orthodox religious establishment in Jerusalem.

The Greek elections and the impressive popular support that the Syriza Party garnered have certainly grabbed world attention.

Athenian democracy, which was developed in the 5th century BC, remains a unique and intriguing experiment in direct democracy.

The country that brought to the world modern democracy has shown the refreshing meaning of giving people the right to say who rules them.

Let us hope that our region will benefit politically from the new elections and also absorb the liberating power of democracy.