The Israeli government decided to recognize the appointment of Greek Orthodox Patriarch Archbishop Theophilus III on Sunday after he made clear that he had no obligation to give a list of church land holdings to Jordan or the Palestinian Authority.
The decision was made by a ministerial committee on Greek Patriarch affairs headed by MK Rafi Eitan (Pensioners Party).
This marks the end of a two-year period wherein the Israeli government refused to accept the new leader of the Greek Orthodox community because of a suspicion that he intended to submit a list of the church's property in Jerusalem—which includes the plot of land under the Knesset and the president's residence among others—to the Jordanians and Palestinians.
In August of 2005, the Holy Synod of the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem chose Archbishop Theophilus III as the new leader of the community in Jerusalem. Theophilus III replaced Irineos I who was involved in the sale of church land holdings to Ateret Cohanim, an organization that buys land in East Jerusalem for Jewish settlers.
Israel delayed his appointment in wake of their suspicion of his intentions to allow Jordan and the Palestinians to get an inside look at the list of Greek Orthodox church real estate holdings, estimated to be of higher value than the Jewish National Fund's real estate possessions. Theophilus appealed to the High Court following the notification that his appointment would not be recognized.
Declaration deemed sufficient
The committee on Greek Orthodox Patriarchate affairs ruled on Sunday on the matter of recognition of the new archbishop. At first, the committee requested that Theophilus provide them with a written pledge that he did not intend to pass on information about the church's possessions to the Jordanians or the Palestinians. However, in the end, the committees deemed a verbal declaration sufficient to recognize his appointment as the new Patriarch of the Greek Orthodox community.
Three ministers, Rafi Eitan, Shalom Simhon (Labor) and Daniel Friedmann (Kadima) voted for the measure. Yitzhak Cohen (Shas) voted against it and announced that he would appeal the decision in the Knesset general assembly.
If Cohen goes through with his threat, Archbishop Theophilus III will have to wait for the general assembly of the Knesset to confirm his appointment in order for it to be considered official.