A recent decision by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to appoint a new Supreme Presidential Committee for Churches’ Affairs has caused the ire of Christian leaders in Jerusalem, who said Abbas did consult them or coordinate any changes.
The Council of Patriarchs and Heads of Churches of Jerusalem called for a meeting of its members to discuss the appointment, which they described as a “clear infringement on the role and status of the churches.” The group called on Abbas to “maintain the status quo and not to engage the churches in political quarrels.”The group said that several of the church leaders in Jerusalem expressed their dismay for hearing about Abbas’s decision from various newspapers and media outlets.
“There is a general dissatisfaction with the low level of membership representation in the new committee compared to the previous committee,” the council said. “The previous committee included members of the PLO Executive Committee and [PA] government ministers, while the new committee includes representatives of ministries and a representation of an entity with legal and political controversies, which will negatively affect the performance of the committee.”
Abbas announced the names of the new members of the Supreme Presidential Committee for Churches’ Affairs in a “presidential decree” he issued on February 14.
The new committee is headed by Ramzi Khoury, who previously served as director of the office of former PA President Yasser Arafat. Khoury currently serves as General Director of the Palestine National Fund, a PLO organization responsible for managing financial aid to the Palestinians from various sources, including Arab states, donations from wealthy Palestinians and taxes levied on Palestinians working in Arab countries.
The new committee includes representatives of the PA president’s office and the ministries of foreign affairs and tourism, as well as the PA “Governor of Jerusalem” and the mayors of Ramallah, Bethlehem, Beit Sahur and Bet Jala.
In addition, the new committee includes the chairman of the Central Orthodox Council in Jordan and Palestine, the PA representative to the Vatican and a representative of the Union of Churches Association in the Gaza Strip.
The Central Orthodox Council in Jordan and Palestine is strongly opposed to the activities of the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate in Jerusalem, headed by Theophilos III, especially with regards to the sale or lease of church-owned properties to Israelis.