Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat set up a negotiating team, headed by Likud Minister Tzachi Hanegbi, to resolve a dispute with the city’s churches over municipal taxes.
“As part of the discussion between the Prime Minister’s Office and the Jerusalem Municipality regarding churches’ municipal taxes, Prime Minister Netanyahu and Jerusalem Mayor Barkat have agreed that a professional team led by Minister Hanegbi, including representatives of the Ministries of Finance, Foreign Affairs and the Interior and the Jerusalem Municipality, will formulate a solution to the issue of municipal taxes (which do not apply to houses of worship). The team will negotiate with the representatives of the churches to resolve the issue,” according to a statement from the Prime Minister’s Office.
“As a result, the Jerusalem Municipality is suspending the collection actions it has taken in recent weeks,” it says.
Hanegbi will also examine the issue of Jerusalem land sales by the Greek Orthodox Church, with all Knesset legislation suspended until the minister presents his findings, the PMO says.
“Israel is proud to be the only country in the Middle East where Christians and believers of all faiths have full freedom of religion and worship. Israel is home to a flourishing Christian community and welcomes its Christian friends from all over the world,” Netanyahu’s office says.
Roman Catholic, Greek Orthodox and other Christian leaders on Sunday closed the Church of the Holy Sepulchre to protest Barkat’s decision to force them to pay property taxes.
The church is revered by Christians as the site where Jesus was crucified and resurrected, and is a popular spot with tourists and Christian pilgrims. Christian leaders have said the building will remain closed indefinitely.
Barkat said his order applies only to “commercial properties, such as hotels and office space, and does not affect houses of worship. He said his decision is in line with norms around the world, and called the church’s closure “unfortunate.”