NEWS

Palestinians lobby to have contracts for controversial deals annulled

When the scandal was bought to light recently by the Israeli daily Ma’ariv, Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmud Abbas convened high-level meetings and personally assigned Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia to handle the matter. Qureia appealed to a group of distinguished Israeli Arab lawyers headed by Jawad Boulus, defense counsel of the imprisoned Al Fatah leader Marwan Barghouti. As Vassiliki Siouti revealed a week ago in Eleftherotypia’s Sunday edition, the Palestinians gained access to the dispute contracts and discovered, to their pained surprise, that the contracts bore not only the signature of Irenaios but of another two clerics from the Holy Sepulcher who are leading the rebellion against him. Kathimerini’s sources say the Palestinians, armed with irrefutable evidence, threatened Irenaios that if he did not immediately revoke the sales contracts, they would sue him for control over the church in Bethlehem and other Orthodox churches, leaving the Patriarchate only the churches of the Nativity and the Holy Sepulcher. Moreover, the Palestinians demanded the return not only of the two hotels in Omar Square, but also of another 64 buildings – chiefly stores in the Old City of Jerusalem – which the Patriarchate had sold. Signatures revoked Eventually the clerics’ signatures on the disputed contracts were revoked, but only after the Palestinians had agreed to pay a sum of 135 million dollars. The greater part of that sum is designated for the Israeli companies which had undertaken the leases and sale of the properties. However, another part of it, sources say, will be paid to other individuals who, although they were involved in the controversial sales, found a way of benefiting from their annulment. With the help of technology, the Palestinians took care to record the deal. The documents – in both written and audio-visual form – implicate both Irenaios and his would-be successors, and are being kept on file in case of any future developments. Sources say that Irenaios himself offered the Palestinians documents which implicate clerics from the rival faction, asking them to intervene, not so that he can retain his post – which not even he himself considers possible – but to ensure that charges are not brought against him by the legal authorities of Ramallah, Amman or Athens. Meanwhile, Irenaios has contacted Omri Sharon, son of the Israeli prime minister, who has been involved in exceptionally unsavory economic scandals, but it is not known what he asked or received. At the time of writing, the cancellation of the sales remains incomplete. Concern has been expressed that Jewish settler organizations are behind the companies that bought the buildings. This happened in the past in a case where Diodoros sold up property. Such organizations have become a state within a state in Israel, and this possibility could complicate the case even further.