How Politics Created an Unnecessary Dispute between Jerusalem Churches and the Israeli Government

March 12 2018

On February 25, the Greek Orthodox, Franciscan, and Armenian clergymen who jointly control Jerusalem’s Church of the Holy Sepulcher took the unprecedented decision of closing the church to protest the municipal government’s plan to begin taxing church land—that is, the real estate that Christian churches own and rent out as a source of income, not the actual properties used for religious functions. Thanks to the intervention of Prime Minister Netanyahu, the parties have since reached a solution, and the church was reopened after three days. Amit Barak explains how the dispute spiraled out of control:

The situation surrounding the lands threatens the Greek Orthodox patriarch Theophilos III’s seat. . . . [T]o satisfy [his critics within the church and without], he bashed Israel. He launched an international campaign, meeting with various world leaders and accusing Israel of persecuting Christians. I am of the opinion that he does not believe his own condemnations of Israel. . . .

To understand what is behind the controversy, one must understand the land issue. On some of the church lands in Jerusalem (especially those held by the Greek Orthodox patriarchate), residential neighborhoods were built after the lands were leased by the church to the Jewish National Fund (JNF). In recent years, the Greek Orthodox church decided to sell the land. This is a highly sensitive and very political issue. The church’s previous patriarch, Irenaios I, was unseated after he carried out such a move. Once news spread that the current patriarch, Theophilos III, was offering land for sale as well, various elements within the Greek Orthodox church began to protest and thus threaten Theophilos [who promptly bashed Israel].

These elements identify completely with the pro-Palestinian movement [and] with the Joint Arab List [in the Knesset], which are coordinating their actions with their allies in the Palestinian Authority and Jordan. In addition to their political opposition to selling land to Jews, they also criticized the low prices at which lands were [previously] sold in order to gain support among an Arab public that does not necessarily identify with their political line. . . .

Over the last five years, there is a process under way within the Christian Arabic-speaking community of integrating into Israeli society and enlisting in the IDF or in national service, [offered by the Israeli government as an alternative to conscription]. . . . It should be self-evident that the current dispute harms such positive developments.

Read more at Mida

More about: Israel & Zionism, Israeli Arabs, Israeli Christians, Jerusalem, Jewish National Fund

The Danger of Hollow Fixes to the Iran Deal

March 20 2018

In January, the Trump administration announced a 120-day deadline for the so-called “E3”—Britain, France, and Germany—to agree to solutions for certain specific flaws in the 2015 agreement to limit the Islamic Republic’s nuclear program. Omri Ceren explains why it’s necessary to get these fixes right:

[Already in October], the administration made clear that it considered the deal fatally flawed for at least three reasons: a weak inspections regime in which the UN’s nuclear watchdog can’t access Iranian military facilities, an unacceptable arrangement whereby the U.S. had to give up its most powerful sanctions against ballistic missiles even as Iran was allowed to develop ballistic missiles, and the fact that the deal’s eventual expiration dates mean Iran will legally be allowed to get within a hair’s breadth of a nuclear weapon. . . .

A team of American negotiators has been working on getting the E3 to agree to a range of fixes, and is testing whether there is overlap between the maximum that the Europeans can give and the minimum that President Trump will accept. The Europeans in turn are testing the Iranians to gauge their reactions and will likely not accept any fixes that would cause Iran to bolt.

The negotiations are problematic. The New York Times reported that, as far as the Europeans are concerned, the exercise requires convincing Trump they’ve “changed the deal without actually changing it.” Public reports about the inspection fix suggest that the Europeans are loath to go beyond urging the International Atomic Energy Commission to request inspections, which the agency may be too intimidated to do. The ballistic-missile fix is shaping up to be a political disaster, with the Europeans refusing to incorporate anything but long-range missiles in the deal. That would leave us with inadequate tools to counter Iran’s development of ballistic missiles that could be used to wipe Israel, the Saudis, and U.S. regional bases off the map. . . .

There is a [significant] risk the Trump administration may be pushed to accept the hollow fixes acceptable to the Europeans. Fixing the deal in this way would be the worst of all worlds. It would functionally enshrine the deal under a Republican administration. Iran would be open for business, and this time there would be certainty that a future president will not act to reverse the inevitable gold rush. Just as no deal would have been better than a bad deal, so no fix would be better than a bad fix.

Read more at Commentary

More about: Donald Trump, Europe, Iran, Politics & Current Affairs, U.S. Foreign policy