NEWS

Predecessor Diodoros also approved sales

Irenaios is not the first patriarch to have secretly sold off tracts of the Patriarchate’s land (the total value of which is estimated at 3 billion euros) to the Israelis. There is undeniable evidence that his predecessor, Diodoros, conducted similar deals, provoking the justifiable rage of the Palestinians. Strategic location The most scandalous of the Patriarchate’s land deals took place in the Palestinian area of Jabal Abu Gren, where the Jewish settlement of Har Homach was built. It is a strategically significant settlement that interrupts the territorial continuity of East Jerusalem and Bethlehem, the two Palestinian cities that are home to the area’s most important Christian monuments. Intervention by the Israeli security services ensured that the contracts with the Israeli investment company that undertook to deal with the properties would be kept secret, even from the Israeli tax authorities, for at least 20 years. Sources say that one of Irenaios’s leading rivals, who is now brandishing the sword of catharsis, was aware of, if not involved, in that deal. After the death of Diodoros, Irenaios first secured the support of the then-Palestinian leader, Yasser Arafat. The second Intifada had already begun and the besieged Palestinian Authority hoped that, with Irenaios at the helm, the Patriarchate’s policy would shift in favor of the Arabs, who represent the majority of the Orthodox flock (there are 100,000 Palestinian Christians, of whom 70,000 are Orthodox). Right of veto Israel, which controls Jerusalem and has the right of veto over candidates to the patriarchal throne, initially refused to ratify Irenaios’s candidacy, presumably in order to extract the maximum in exchange from him. For the same reason, it delayed confirming his election for two years. As has become known, a crucial role was played throughout that period by Apostolos Vavilis, who sold Israeli weapons to the Greek police. Vavilis, who arrived in Jerusalem in 2001, was presented on television as a delegate of Archbishop Christodoulos, and this was used in a campaign against the archbishop at a time when economic scandals in the Greek church were being disclosed. Palestinian officials who spoke to Kathimerini believe this version to be misleading. They claim that Christodoulos, with his «patriotic» discourse and repeated digs at globalization, was never in favor with Israel or the US and had no reason to engage in murky deals with the Israeli state. They also believe that even if Vavilis managed to get favorable references from the archbishop, he was delegated in essence by the Greek state apparatus or at least by some important department of it. Back in Jerusalem, Vavilis did indeed secure Irenaios’s recognition by the Israeli state, having previously given what was wanted in exchange. From the first, he advised Irenaios to repudiate the allegedly «blatant pro-Palestinian stance» of the Patriarchate’s circles, and to sideline Arab Orthodox clerics such as Attalah Hanah for fear that the Patriarchate would be «Arabized.» He also «offered» to Irenaios Professor Yaacov Neeman, former justice and economy minister of Israel and a personal friend of Ariel Sharon, as a legal advisor (and deputy). But what undoubtedly cemented the relationship between Irenaios and the Israeli government was the 199-year lease of two hotels in the Old City of Jerusalem, the Petra and the Imperial, to Israelis, with the same 20-year embargo that had been offered to Diodoros.