23 January 2020, 11:18
Issue of Alexander Metochion handover to Russia could be resolved in coming days - Israeli govt
Jerusalem, January 23, Interfax - The issue of the handover of the Alexander Metochion in Jerusalem to Russia could be resolved within the next few days, Director of the Israeli Government Press Office Nitzan Chen told Interfax.
"It's not such a big issue, none declares that it's not under Russian sovereignty, the gap between the two governments is quite little. It could be [decided] even tomorrow, it could be the day after Putin goes back to Russia. This kind of thing is preferred to be closed in a small room, and not to make a big sensation of it," Chen said.
The metochion has long been at issue and was brought up by the Russian president during his visits to Israel ten years ago, he said.
"The church belongs to Russian authority, it's under Russian sovereignty, but it's complicated, because the building belongs to the Israeli government. We need to find a way, and I'm sure they'll find a way," Chen said.
The Jerusalem Post reported earlier, citing an official document, that late last year Israel had resolved the issue of the metochion's legal status in Russia's favor by handing it the rights to the site.
The Alexander Metochion is situated in the Old Town of Jerusalem, in close proximity to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. It is an archeological and architectural compound standing on land bought by Russian Emperor Alexander III in 1859.
The compound was built by the Imperial Orthodox Palestine Society in 1896. The controversy surrounding its ownership began after the 1917 revolution. In 1918, the head of the society, Prince Alexey Shirinsky-Shikhmatov, fled Russia, as most of the society's members did at the time. Shirinsky-Shikhmatov arrived in Berlin and the society resumed its operation there.
At present, an organization of the same name also exists separately in Russia. The German society is led by Vorontsov-Hofmann, the Russian one by Sergey Stepashin, a former head of the Accounts Chamber. Currently, the metochion is occupied by Vorontsov-Hofmann's organization registered in Munich. Stepashin's organization is contesting the ownership of the metochion.
In 1992, the Russian Supreme Court approved a resolution on "the restoration of the historical name of the Imperial Orthodox Palestine Society." The Justice Ministry then recognized it as a successor to the Soviet Palestine Society and to the historical society.