RAMALLAH (AP) â€” The embattled Greek Orthodox patriarch in Jerusalem was not involved in the long-term lease of prime Jerusalem properties to Jewish settlement groups in the city, the Palestinian Authority concluded Monday, after an investigation of several weeks.
The findings could signal a turning point in the murky saga of the property deals and help the patriarch, Irineos I, cling to his job.
It was not clear to what extent the findings might have been influenced by the Palestinian Authority’s attempt to wrest the properties from Jewish hands. Senior Palestinian officials, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter, have said their main objective was to cancel the property transactions and that Irineos has been cooperating with them.
The patriarchate, now in the hands of anti-Irineos clerics, suggested in a statement that the report wasn’t final.
Church rebels, including leading Greek Orthodox clergymen in Jerusalem, have been trying to fire Irineos, accusing him of involvement in the transfer of two hotels and other properties in east Jerusalem to groups that seek to expand the Jewish presence in east Jerusalem. Palestinians seek east Jerusalem as a future capital, and the transactions have angered the church’s predominantly Palestinian flock.
The church has said its land deals were conducted by a former financial officer, Niko Papadimas, who vanished several months ago and now has European arrest warrants against him.
Irineos has insisted he did not know about the leases and has refused to leave his post.
In its report, the Palestinian Cabinet committee wrote that it found no evidence that Irineos was aware of the property deals. “He did not take part in the transactions at any stage, and did not receive any money,” the committee wrote in the report, published Monday in the Palestinian Al Quds newspaper.
The committee also maintained that the transactions were illegal because they were not signed by the church’s leadership body, or synod. The committee alleged that Irineos was the victim of a conspiracy by leading clerics and Israeli extremists, who allegedly were trying â€” each for their own motives â€” to oust him.
The patriarchate said in its statement that to the best of its knowledge, the report in Al Quds was not the official Palestinian Authority report, but a report drafted by two lawyers acting on Irineos’ behalf.
“It is unheard (of) to try to pronounce innocent the leader of any institution that caused tremendous moral and financial damage to it,” the statement added. “The brotherhood counts Mr Irineos responsible for all the damage caused (to) the patriarchate by his assistants.” One of the lawyers, Elias Khoury, said the report published in the newspaper was the one presented to Cabinet.
Khoury said his office would file suit in a Jerusalem court on Tuesday demanding revocation of the deal, which he said was “legally incomplete.” Asked if there was hope of invalidating the deal, he said, “Yes, there is hope and we will pursue it.” Samir Huleileh, the Palestinian Cabinet secretary, wasn’t available for comment.
Joseph Richter, a Jerusalem lawyer for a company that’s taken over property at the heart of the affair, refused to comment on the Palestinian report.
Irineos has been holed up for weeks in his apartment in the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate in the Old City, while the rebels have prevented him from entering his office in the compound and have been running day-to-day affairs.