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Jerusalem's Greek Orthodox Patriarch Faces Ouster in Land Dispute

Patriarch Irineos I, right, listens to a question during a press conference (File photo)
A controversy over a land deal is threatening to lead to the ouster of the Patriarch of the Greek Orthodox Church in Jerusalem. Sonja Pace reports on allegations that the patriarch leased church property in the traditionally Arab part of Jerusalem to a Jewish group.

Land is at the center of the Middle East conflict. Disputes over ownership of even the smallest tracts can cause a furor like the one that erupted when news reports surfaced several months ago that Greek Orthodox Patriarch Irineos I leased church-owned land in Jerusalem's Old City to a group of Jewish investors.

The patriarch denied involvement in any such deal and blamed the allegations on rivals within the church. Still, his constituents, and Palestinians in general, were outraged. Palestinians want East Jerusalem as the capital of their future state and see the sale or lease of any land there as an attempt by Israel to keep that from happening.

Palestinian Christian, Dimitri Diliani is president of the National Christian Coalition. He says the patriarch must go.

"By leasing a strategic location to Israeli investors in occupied East Jerusalem, the patriarch, in fact, does harm our national interests," he said.

Last week two-thirds of the members of the synod, the church's main decision making body, voted for the patriarch's removal. And, now Jordan's cabinet also has voted to withdraw its support from the patriarch as has the Palestinian Authority.

According to church tradition, the patriarch must have the support of the major powers in the area. The Palestinians are directly involved in the dispute, while Jordan is still considered the custodian of Jerusalem's Christian and Muslim holy shrines even though it lost the city along with the rest of the West Bank to Israel in the 1967 Middle East War.

It is now up to Jordan's King Abdullah and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to either approve the patriarch's ouster or override the decisions of their respective cabinets.

Israel has said it would not get involved in the dispute.