A forum of just four cabinet ministers approved the appointment Sunday night of Eirinaios I as Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem. Government sources, however, said that even in this limited forum, there were serious flaws with the appointment.
A forum of just four cabinet ministers approved the appointment Sunday night of Eirinaios I as Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem.
Government sources, however, said that even in this limited forum, there were serious flaws with the appointment.
The government opposed Eirinaios’s appointment as patriarch because of his close relationship with Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat. Sources said they have reports compiled by the Shin Bet security services warning that Eirinaios could hand over church property to hostile Palestinian forces. The Makor Rishon newspaper recently published a report on this, prompting Eirinaios, through his attorney, Yaakov Neeman, to sue the paper for libel.
Eirinaios won the August elections, defeating two opponents, both of whom Israel backed. Israel opposed Eirinaios’s competing for the post due to “security reasons.” He petitioned the High Court over the government’s opposition to his candidacy, and the government retracted it. In September, the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate went ahead with the enthronement ceremony in Jerusalem’s Church of the Holy Sepulchre which the Israeli government boycotted.
Under the church’s constitution, the “ruler” of the land must approve the appointment of the new patriarch. Israel, Jordan and the Palestinian Authority are considered “rulers” of the patriarchate’s land in Jerusalem; Jordan and the PA approved the appointment.
Following further pressure on the Israeli government, the prime minister’s aides asked Justice Minister Meir Sheetrit to sign a document handing over the decision on Eirinaios’s appointment to the Knesset. Sheetrit signed the document, but his aides later claimed that he had been duped and did not know exactly what he was signing. The sources also said that Prime Minister Ariel Sharon did not want his signature appearing on the certification of Eirinaios’s appointment, and therefore, he decided to place the matter in Sheetrit’s hands, even though he did not oppose the posting.
On Sunday night, Sharon called the cabinet, asking for approval for the establishment of a special team of four minister to decide on the appointment. Some ministers, including Public Security Minister Uzi Landau and Education Minister Limor Livnat, opposed the idea, but the majority were in favor. The forum comprised Sharon, Foreign Minister Shimon Peres, Religious Affairs Minister Asher Ohana and Justice Minister Meir Sheetrit.
Government sources said the government’s approval of Eirinaios’s appointment after months of an impasse is linked to U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell’s visit to the region. Sources in the ministerial forum also said the decision-making process was flawed, and the appointment was approved since “the political circumstances have changed.”