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Sharon Seeks to Persuade Ministers to Support Arafat’s Man as Church Head

Arutz Sheva December 26, 2002

Sharon Trying to Persuade Ministers to Support Arafat’s Man for Church Appointment
Prime Minister Ariel Sharon plans to ask the cabinet this Sunday to approve a man closely associated with PLO terrorist chief Yasser Arafat as head of the Greek Orthodox church in Israel: Irineos I. Until then, Sharon will be conducting meetings with several ministers who are strongly against the appointment.

Arutz-7 has received copies of letters written by Irineos to Yasser Arafat in which he uses sharp anti-Semitic terminology and openly expresses his support for the PLO’s terrorism against Israel. On July 17, 2001, he wrote, “You [Arafat] are aware of the sentiments of disgust and disrespect that all the Holy Sepulchre fathers are feeling for the descendants of the crucifiers of our Lord… actual crucifiers of your people, Sionists [sic] Jewish conquerors of the Holy Land of Palestine.”

Reproductions of the letters can be seen below.

The above letter was written in reaction to Justice Minister Meir Sheetrit’s rejection of Irineos’ candidacy for the Patriarchal position. In the letter, Irineos asks Arafat for his support, promising that if he is elected, “rest assured, Mr. President, that the rights of our most beloved Palestinian people on the Holy City of Jerusalem will find the most ‘hot’ supporter.”

Arutz-7’s Shimon Cohen reports that until recently, Prime Minister Sharon vehemently opposed the appointment of the new Greek Orthodox Patriarch, because of his strong connection to Arafat and his support for using terrorism as a weapon against Israel. Cohen also reports that Greece itself objects to Irineos as head of the Greek Orthodox Church in Israel.

Sharon’s aide Dov Weisglass, however, said that the U.S. is pressuring the government to appoint Irineos. He said as much to several ministers this morning whose support for the appointment he was trying to obtain. Foreign Minister Binyamin Netanyahu responded that he would be willing to go to the U.S. and present the evidence of Irineos’ strong bonds with the PA in general and with Arafat in particular. Minister Sheetrit, however, who is a leading candidate to serve in the next government because of his support for Sharon’s Palestinian state idea, has already changed his mind regarding Irineos and now supports the appointment.

A second letter from Irineos to Arafat, dated April 5, 2002, emphasizes Arafat’s “heroic resistance” to Israel’s “illegal and inhuman aggression” against Arafat’s headquarters in Ramallah and Christian “holy sites” in Bethlehem. Irineos signed the letter in large type as “PATRIARCH OF JERUSALEM AND WHOLE PALESTINE.”

As head of the Greek Orthodox Church, considered the richest in Israel, Irineos would have responsibility for the church’s extensive land holdings. These include the land on which the Knesset was built, the Prime Minister’s and the President’s official residences, parts of Jerusalem’s wealthiest neighborhoods, and locations in the Old City and in the new Jerusalem neighborhood of Har Homa.

According to recent reports in Israel’s media, Irineos promised to give Arafat church property in Jerusalem as a “gift.” In his letter of July 2001 to Arafat, Irineos mentioned the formation of a “joint body of management” with the Palestinian Authority for the church’s Old City real estate.

Irineos’ appointment has already been approved by Jordan and the Palestinian Authority. He cannot assume his post, however, until Israel also gives its assent. Ministers opposing the appointment include Uzi Landau (Likud), Natan Sharansky (Yisrael B’Aliya), Shas ministers, and Effie Eitam (National Religious Party).

Landau’s spokesman told Arutz-7 that the Minister of Public Security continues to oppose the appointment of Irineos and is aware of the danger it presents to Israel. Sharansky’s spokesman said that “now, as in the past, he strongly opposes the appointment of Irineos as Greek Patriarch.”

Many ministers have refrained from expressing an opinion on the Irineos issue. Arutz-7 has learned that such ministers fear that after the elections, Sharon will not reappoint those who are opposed to his policies. It was similarly learned that the approval of Irineos, which was to have been finalized several weeks ago, was held up by the exposure of his connections with Arafat. Attorney Gilad Sher, who served as bureau chief to Prime Minister Ehud Barak, is representing Irineos in Israel.

Two weeks ago, in a meeting at the PLO’s Ramallah headquarters between Israeli Christian leaders and Yasser Arafat, Irineos hugged and kissed the terrorist leader. Speaking for the group, Irineos stressed the deep connection between himself, as representative of the Greek church, and Arafat’s Palestinian Authority.

Irineos’ spokesman, Atallah Hana, has caused some controversy for the Greek Orthodox Church with his statements in favor of suicide terrorist attacks against Israel. Israel Police detained and questioned him last August regarding his pro-terrorism statements, his illegal travels to Syria and Lebanon, his meeting with Hizbullah head Nasrallah, and his remarks of support for “martyrdom by Palestinian men and women.”

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