Israeli decision makers are divided over whether the newly elected Greek Orthodox Patriarch Irineos I genuinely means to exit the Palestinian loop or is putting on a manipulative act to win Israeli government recognition.
High level Israeli officials are at loggerheads with the authorities dealing with Christian communities over the touchy issue of recognition.
Latter says Irineos is playing Israelis along and will turn coat.
His Israeli lobbyists claims he is on the point of declaring that the orthodox church is no longer an Arab church, but defers to the 400,000 non-Arab infusion that has joined the 100,000 strong Arab congregation.
The Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem, a venerable body almost as old as Christendom, is in turmoil over modern-day pressures arising from America’s war on terror. Just as the Greek government has had to confront a longstanding terror threat from the left, Irineos I, Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem, Palestinian and Jordan, is required to distance his church from old alliances and sympathies with terrorist elements in the Middle East, namely Yasser Arafat and his followers.
However the demands come from figures in the Greek Orthodox Church that are too powerful for Ireneos to resist, who argue that any association with terrorists is inappropriate. At the same time, the Israeli government continues to withhold recognition from the newly elected patriarch. According to the church’s 3rd century charter, recognition from the local sovereign is mandatory for the Patriarch’s accreditation. His path towards claiming that recognition has been smoothed by Arafat’s isolation and diminution and the crumbling of his Palestinian Authority.
Nonetheless bumps remain. The Orthodox Church’s Arab community has become increasingly nationalistic since Arafat proclaimed his Intifada, and is pressing an old-standing demand for the church’s “Arabization” in the face of the predominantly Greek senior clergy.
Hauling the cumbersome old church round credibly in a new direction is rather like an about-turn by a giant oil tanker at sea – a delicate operation that needs time and space. The helping hand extended by various Israeli interested parties may be more self-interested than constructive.