Israeli court puts appointment of Greek patriarch on hold again
By Ross Dunn
Jerusalem, 3 March (ENI)--Israel's Supreme Court has frozen the
appointment of the Greek patriarch of the Holy Land, Irineos 1,
whose position was to have been approved by Israel on Wednesday,
in response to a series of legal challenges.
The decision taken on 25 February is the latest in a series of
actions aimed at preventing the patriarch from confirming his
status, more than two years after he was elected.
The Israel Cabinet finally gave its approval to his appointment
in January this year but this decision has been temporarily
suspended in response to the court actions. Under a tradition
dating back centuries, a new Greek patriarch in Jerusalem has to
be confirmed by the rulers of the Holy Land, in this case Israel,
the Palestinian Authority, and Jordan.
The Greek Orthodox archbishop in Jerusalem, Aristarchos, told
ENI on Tuesday that the church was optimistic that the legal
challenges would be defeated. "We are hopeful and we are waiting
for this to end and for the Patriarch to receive the official
documents recognising his status," he said.
One of the challenges is from an unnamed Greek Orthodox church
leader from the Galilee region and the other is from an Israeli
attorney, Dan Avi-Yitzchak, on behalf of an unnamed client. In
his petition, Avi-Yitzchak repeated the claims of Israel's
secret police alleging that the patriarch is pro-Palestinian and
his elevation is against the interests of the Jewish State.
The Greek-born patriarch was elected by a synod of bishops in
August 2001 but was not initially accepted by Israel because of
his reported warm ties with the Palestinian leader, Yasser
Arafat. Israel also suspected Irineos might use his position to
prevent the renewal of leases to Israelis on the large land
holdings of the Greek Orthodox Church.
As head of the Greek Orthodox Church, considered the most wealthy
such institution in Israel, Irineos would be responsible for its
extensive property holdings, including the land on which the
Knesset (the Israeli parliament) now stands, as well as the prime
minister's and the president's official residences, all in
Israeli Welfare Minister Zevulun Orlev, a member of the
ministerial committee that recommended the appointment be
approved, said earlier this month that there is a "black cloud
that is still hanging over his head regarding his [Irineos]
loyalty to the State of Israel... The Patriarch is not only a
religious leader, but also someone who owns very important
Israeli lands - why should we take the risk? With one decision,
he could change the status of lands on a tremendous scale, and
thus harm our status in Jerusalem and elsewhere."
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