NEWS

Irenaios recognized, grudgingly

After 30 months of pressure from Athens, Israel yesterday officially recognized Patriarch Irenaios I as head of the Greek Orthodox Church in the Holy Land. The Greek-born Irenaios was elected patriarch of Jerusalem in August 2001, succeding Diodoros I, although Israel had tried to block his candidacy. When, under a 129-year-old Ottoman law, the Patriarchate sought recognition of its new leader from regional powers – Israel, the Palestinian Authority and Jordan – Tel Aviv refused to acknowledge Irenaios, citing «security considerations» and Israeli «interests in Jerusalem.» Israeli officials believed the patriarch was too close to the Palestinians. Yesterday’s decision followed a positive recommendation to the Israeli government by a Cabinet committee headed by Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom. «The Greek Orthodox patriarch is, in effect, an ambassador, and just as Israel cannot except in extreme circumstances veto this or that country’s envoy, the government decided it was time to approve Metropolitan Irenaios,» a Cabinet spokesman said. Israeli political sources said fears Irenaios might be too pro-Palestinian had now been allayed. Athens expressed pleasure. «It is with particular satisfaction that the Greek government salutes the recognition of Irenaios, Patriarch of Jerusalem,» Deputy Foreign Minister Yiannis Magriotis said. «This recognition, even though belated, justifies the Greek government’s efforts.» The Patriarchate owns or leases big areas in Jerusalem, including affluent parts of the Jewish west and the land on which Israel’s president and prime minister reside. Mindful that its leases on several properties are due to expire by midcentury, Israel is wary of a pro-Arab patriarch. (Combined reports)