09 April 2020, 18:45
Kremlin expects Israel to remain committed to decision on Alexander Metochion's handover
Moscow, April 9, Interfax - Russia expects Israel to remain committed to its decision on handing the Alexander Metochion over to Russia, Russian presidential press secretary Dmitry Peskov said.
"We hope Israel will remain committed to the decision on handing this metochion over. This is very important to us," Peskov told journalists on Thursday.
During his last visit to Israel, Russian President Vladimir Putin thanked Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for the decision to hand the Alexander Metochion over to Russia, he said.
"Russian believers and the church highly appreciated Israel's friendly gesture. As far as we understand, the current issues emerged because of a judicial appeal against this by some of the parties," Peskov said.
Several years ago, the Imperial Orthodox Palestine Society (IOPS), a Russia-based organization, collected and filed with the Israeli Justice Ministry the documents necessary for registering the Alexander Metochion as Russia's property. The documents were expected to be issued on March 1.
Shortly before the metochion was to be registered as Russia's property, IOPS Chairman Sergey Stepashin said an Israeli court had registered a motion whose initiators sought the cancellation of the registration.
The Russian embassy to Israel told Interfax that "as far as it is concerned, Russia is preparing its response to the motion [...] and will present it to the court in the near future in line with Israeli law."
Stepashin also said that the temporary ban on transferring the rights to the Alexander Metochion to Russia imposed by the Jerusalem District Court will not affect Russia's plans to regain the property rights to the compound.
The Alexander Metochion, an archeological and architectural complex, is located in the Old City of Jerusalem, right near the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. The land on which it is located was purchased by Russia in 1859.
The compound was built by the Imperial Orthodox Palestine Society in 1896.
The controversy surrounding its ownership began after the revolution of 1917. In 1918, the head of the society, Prince Alexey Shirinsky-Shikhmatov, fled Russia, as most of the society's members did at that time. Shirinsky-Shikhmatov arrived in Berlin, and the society resumed operating there.
At present, two different organization of the same name - Imperial Orthodox Palestine Society - exist separately in Russia and in Germany. In 1992, the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the Russian Federation 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.
The German society is led by Nikolay Worontsow-Hoffmann, the Russian one by Sergey Stepashin, a former head of the Accounts Chamber. Currently, the metochion is occupied by Vorontsov-Hofmann's organization, which is registered in Munich. Stepashin's organization is contesting the ownership of the metochion. According to Worontsow-Hoffmann, before they left Palestine in 1948, the British authorities confirmed the society's right to all related property in the Holy Land.
On January 23, Putin paid a working visit to Israel. Putin and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met with the mother of Israeli citizen Naama Issachar, who was convicted for drug smuggling in Russia and whose release the Israeli authorities were seeking. On January 29, Issachar was pardoned by Putin, and Netanyahu took her to Israel the next day.
Israeli media linked Issachar's pardon to the possible transfer of the ownership of the Alexander Metochion in Jerusalem to Russia.