No Peace for Irenios

Things continue to look grim for Jerusalem Orthodox Christian Patriarch Irenios I. As I blogged a couple of days ago, the Patriarch has been dismissed from his position by other clerics, who accuse him of being responsible for the sale of church land in East Jerusalem to a group linked to Israeli settlers. Irenios has rejected the dismissal, but according to Haaretz:

The most important figure in the Orthodox Christian world has recognized the dismissal of Patriarch Irineos I, head of the Greek Orthodox Church in the Holy Land, according to sources in the Jerusalem Patriarchate.

The sources say that Bartholomaus, Patriarch of Constantinople, sent a letter yesterday to Irineos with the salutation “Patriarch Irineos, Jerusalem,” rather than “The Patriarch Irineos of Jerusalem,” something which constitutes a recognition of the dismissal.

…Jordan announced over the weekend that if two-thirds of the Synod were indeed in favor of the dismissal, Jordan would recognize it.

…A meeting yesterday between Irineos’ opponents and Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia (Abu Ala) seemed to indicate that the PA also favors recognizing the dismissal. However, a great deal depends of the findings of various committees of inquiry examining Irineos’ alleged sales of Patriarchate property near the Jaffa Gate in Jerusalem to Jews.

Haaretz also notes that:

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon advisor Shalom Turdjeman and the cabinet secretary, Yisrael Maimon, would be meeting with the two sides to hear their versions of events. The sources stressed that Israel would not be acting as an arbitrator and was not taking a stand on an internal church matter.

That’s a bit rich, since the Israeli government is most likely behind Irineos’s woes. Danny Rubenstein had this to say in the same paper a couple of weeks ago:

…the buyer was to pay $135 million to the patriarchy to lease the properties for 99 years. This is a vast sum, not economically justified, since the properties are occupied.

…Settlers have always demonstrated an impressive ability to raise funds for their cause from government and other public bodies. It is possible therefore that the buyer is none other than the Israeli government, directly or indirectly, as was the case for another patriarchy property – Saint John’s Hospice, adjacent to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. The money for that deal came from the Housing Ministry at the instruction of then-housing minister David Levy, acting under the guise of a foreign company.

The Israeli government has a clear interest in taking over properties in the Jaffa Gate area before negotiations on Jerusalem’s future. Ownership of the Jaffa Gate area and the Armenian Quarter would enable Israel to create a contiguous Jewish presence from the city’s west to the Jewish Quarter and the Western Wall. For Israel, this would be a long term strategic investment.

It is possible that an agent acting for Israel’s government is lying low for fear that exposure would lead to harsh international criticism. Many countries would see the purchase of properties at Jaffa Gate, located outside the pre-1967 borders, as a provocative step in the light of efforts to revive the peace process.

But, weirdly, that’s not the argument being made by Irineos’s detractors today:

Church spokesman Bishop Atalla Hana [or “Atallah Hanna”] said yesterday, “The Israelis may not have understood us. The problem is not the sale of lands to Jews, but rather the lack of proper management and transparency, and fraud.”

That’s an unexpected line from Hana, a man who has an unfortunate habit of being quoted in the Arab press as being in favour of suicide bombings, which he then denies (his “church spokesman” status is self-appointed, and was explicitly denied as being valid by Irenios back in 2002. See my previous posting on this). The fact that the property was bought by a Jewish group in order to strengthen Israel’s control over a Palestinian area is precisely “the problem”, surely? Is Hana saying he would have approved the sale, had it been managed better?

So, we’ve got a Greek patriarch who was originally blocked by Israel back in 2001, which saw him as too pro-Palestinian. Now this same patriarch is under fire for allegedly selling church land to a Jewish group connected to settlers. Meanwhile, we’ve got a Palestinian self-styled church spokesman who has twice been linked to extremist rhetoric which he has gone on to disavow – although the alleged smears have not come from pro-Zionist sources, as one would expect, but from Arab and Muslim news sites. This “spokesman” has been leading the charge against the Greek Irenios in the name of Palestinian Christian nationalism, but now says he doesn’t mind sales of church land in Palestinian areas to Jews in principle!

Add to this mix Irenios’s missing treasurer; a drug dealer who allegedly helped Irenios’s election; an alleged Palestinian hit-man in the pay of another of Irineos’ rivals; plus alleged death threats by Irineos’ supporters against Hana. It’s not called the Byzantine Orthodox Church for nothing…

UPDATE: More today.