Imperial Hotel Resident Doesn't Plan to Budge

Last week, a few days before his mother suddenly passed away, Professor Mohammed Dajani received a letter from attorney Yosef Richter. Dajani, the head of the American Studies Institute at Al-Quds University, was not really surprised by the letter's contents, even if it was written in Hebrew. A Palestinian who lives in the Old City of Jerusalem is, after all, expected to comprehend legal Hebrew.

The letter said: "My client, Richards Marketing Corporation, has delegated me to contact you, and through you the heirs of your late brother Suleiman, in order to inform you that my client has purchased from the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate in Jerusalem the leasing rights to the property known as the Imperial Hotel, which you and your brother rented from the patriarchate. The rights that my client has purchased also include, of course, the Patriarchate's rights as far as you are concerned... I request that you arrange a meeting to make your acquaintance at our offices."

Looks like proof

The letter to Dajani seems to be concrete proof that a deal was struck with a person or persons at the patriarchate who sold the leasing rights to the hotel, which stands at a strategic location next to Jaffa Gate. The` buyer hides behind the name Richards Marketing Corporation and is commonly believed to be rightist Israelis, a fact that has kicked up a storm in the Greek Orthodox Church and in Greece.

The report of the deal led to the demotion of Irineos, who remains in Jerusalem, supported by Israel alone.

In a conversation with Haaretz, Dajani said that he does not intend to meet with the Israeli attorney before he is presented with the documents that testify to the identity of the purchasers and the legality of the deal.

"My family has been leasing the property from the patriarchate since 1948 for an unlimited time, and any legal contact that we have is with the Patriarchate alone. How is it possible to lease something that is already leased? I doubt the legality of this deal," said Dajani.

No contact

Palestinian attorneys are acting to cancel the Hotel Imperial deal, said Dajani, but he is not enthusiastic about the way the Palestinians are dealing with the affair. He is baffled because the official Palestinian investigating committee, which insofar as is known is clearing Patriarch Irineos of any connection to the deal, has not bothered to contact him. "No one has spoken to us," complained Dajani," neither a representative of the committee nor a lawyer on its behalf. The Palestinians are pretending that they are dealing with the matter because of the strong feelings that the issue arouses among the public, but in fact they are not doing anything."

Dajani has been living in the Imperial Hotel, which in recent years served as a venue for meetings of the Israeli peace camp with Palestinian moderates.

He returned to Jerusalem in 1993 - from studies in the United States and 10 years in Jordan - under the framework of family reunification. Four of his relatives live in the hotel, and their presence could be an obstacle to the new owner's moving people in.

"I am sorry to learn that the Patriarchate has become a real estate agency," Dajani said. "This is not the message that the church should be sending out, certainly not in this delicate situation. Jerusalem must be a city of peace, and this necessitates preserving its character and its tradition. This deal is stirring up a conflict and it's too soon to know how it will develop and to what extent it will be violent."

Palestinian elements want the Patriarchate's legal affairs removed from the hands of Israeli lawyers (Aharonson, Sher, Abulafia, Amodai and Co.) and transferred to the hands of Palestinian lawyers.

This is not just a business move: removing the church's legal affairs from the hands of Israeli lawyers could help in the Palestinization of the church, whose members in the Holy Land are mostly Palestinian, while its leadership is imported from Greece. This state of affairs is a permanent source of tension in the Greek Orthodox Church.

However, in a situation in which the Patriarch derives his authority from Israeli recognition, he needs his Israeli lawyers, who petitioned the High Court of Justice on his behalf when Israel initially withheld recognition, because he was considered pro-Palestinian.

In the meantime, Irineos spends most of his time at his private residence in the Patriarchate compound, which is guarded by the Israel Police, while his replacement, Cornelius, and the rebels who helped depose Irineos are administering routine church matters, without Israel's recognition of their activities.