AMMAN: A previously unknown agreement to turn sensitive land in the old city of Jerusalem into a parking lot — largely for the exclusive use of Jewish residents of the old city — is causing concern for the Palestinian leadership and members of the tiny Armenian community.
The contract, a copy of which is with Arab News, will take effect on Jan. 1, 2021.
Officials of the Armenian Patriarchate confirmed the agreement but insisted that the contract with the Israeli Jerusalem municipality and the Jewish-centric Jerusalem Development Authority (Harali) does not constitute selling or leasing land but is simply a financial operation.
The Armenian Patriarchate said that removal of all earth from the plot of land, which will cost about $2 million, was “a financial obligation that the Patriarchate by itself doesn’t have the capacity to undertake,” according to a statement by the real estate department of the Armenian Patriarchate. The statement said that efforts to get support from “multiple governmental bodies” had run “into obstacles.” In return, the municipality and Harali will have access to 90 parking spots.
But the five-page contract notes (Article 2a) that the cost of lifting the rubble will be considered “a loan” that the church will have to pay back.
The Higher Presidential Committee of Church Affairs in Palestine wrote to Armenian Patriarch Nourhan Manoogian reminding him that the Armenian quarter is part of occupied Palestinian territories where UN resolutions, including the 2017 UNSC Resolution 2334, apply. The letter also noted that the agreement between Jordanian King Abdullah and President Abbas in 2013 was set to regulate Christian and Muslim holy places in Jerusalem.
The letter, signed by Ramzi Khoury, the director of the committee, called on the Armenian Patriarchate “to abide by international law” and said that Israel has “expansionist ambitions,” especially in the area of the Omar Bin Khatab Square and the Armenian quarters” in the old city. Palestinian sources have said that President Arafat refused to concede the Armenian quarter during the 2000 negotiations at Camp David.
A well-respected Palestinian source from the Armenian community said that he “smells a rat,” adding that the current Armenian Patriarchate is not to be trusted. “I think that this is not the first time that the Armenian Patriarchate has tried to sell land and the people of Jerusalem to the Israelis and the people of the city stood up to him,” said the Palestinian leader, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
The Palestinian/Armenian source denied claims that the church had no choice but to go to the Israelis after repeated requests for financial support from the Palestinian government and others were turned down: “This is not true. The EU was interested in fixing the parking lot in a way that would allow its parking lot income to support the church while allowing all the people of the old city to use it but the church refused the offer. A 10-point official statement issued by the real estate department of the Armenian Patriarchate states that the parking lot will remain private and that the management, ownership of the parking lot will remain in the hands of the Patriarchate.”
The statement also highlights that “within the next 10 years, once the Patriarchate has finalized and received all construction permits, in agreement with the municipality, the Patriarchate will begin a new construction that will benefit the Armenian community.” The Patriarchate is hoping to get permission to build a hotel.
Armenian clergy have frequently complained about religious Jews spitting on them. In March 2020 the Israeli police, and for the first time since 1967, fined a young Jewish man 1,500 Israeli shekel ($463) for spitting at an Armenian bishop a year earlier.
Palestinians have boycotted the “unified” Jerusalem municipality since 1967 and consider the Jerusalem Development Authority an arm of radical Jewish groups that intend to Judaize the old city of Jerusalem at the expense of the indigenous Arab Palestinians.