07/14/2005, 00.00
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Palestinian National Authority recognises removal of Irineos

by Arieh Cohen

Jerusalem (AsiaNews) – The President of the Palestinian National Authority, Mr. Mahmoud Abbas, signed a presidential decree recognising the removal of Irineos from the office of Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem, a press report said yesterday. Jordan had already earlier recognised the decision of the Synod of the Patriarchate to remove Irineos from office. Only Israel has not yet taken notice of the decision of the Synod, which has been ratified by the Patriarch of Constantinople and the great majority of the Orthodox Churches throughout the world.

The long-expected Palestinian decision comes after a day in which dozens of the former Patriarch's supporters tried to take over the headquarters of the Patriarchate in Jerusalem's Old City, with the backing of the Israeli police, according to the Israeli daily newspaper HaAretz.

Irineos was removed from office after press disclosed that he had associated himself closely  with an international criminal who had promoted his election to office, and had sold uniquely placed properties just inside the Old City's "Jaffa Gate" to Israeli settlers.

Irineos denied his association with the criminal (even though it is remembered  in Jerusalem that Irineos introduced him personally as a close collaborator) and has vehemently denied involvement in the sale of the property. Any documentation bearing his signature, he has said, is a forgery.

The whole situation appears to have created an unbearable dilemma for both Israel and Palestine.

If Israel refuses to recognise the removal of Irineos, is it saying that it believes his denial of selling the property? If so, it must hold that the documents of the sale are forgeries and, in effect, renounce one of the greatest achievements ever in its unrelenting effort to take over non-Jewish properties in the Old City and the whole of East Jerusalem.

On the other hand, if Israel does recognise the removal of Irineos, a removal decided because he sold property to Jews, will Israel thereby become an accomplice in an "antisemitic" policy?

The inability to decide between these two equally embarrassing alternatives has kept Israel paralysed on this issue.

As for the Palestinians, they have faced their own dilemma. On the one hand, if they refused to recognise the guilt and removal of Irineos, it meant that they accepted the claim that the documents of the sale were forgeries, and that consequently the transfer of these prominent properties in Arab East Jerusalem to settlers was invalid—which is the best outcome of the affair from the point of view of the Palestinian national interest. On the other hand, how could Palestine refuse to recognise the condemnation of Irineos—by his own Church—for selling property to settlers? If Palestine persisted in this refusal, would it not signal thereby that it is "ok" to sell property to Israeli settlers in Palestinian East Jerusalem?

Palestine has resolved its dilemma. Now it is Israel's turn.

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