JERUSALEM, Israel – Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat has shelved the initiative to collect municipal taxes from church-owned commercial properties until a committee can formulate a solution to the issue.
On Sunday, Roman Catholic, Greek Orthodox and Armenian leaders announced the closure of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre to protest the municipality's decision to tax commercial properties such as hotels and restaurants.
Many Christians believe this church marks the site where Jesus was crucified and rose from the dead. It is a popular destination for Christian tourists and pilgrims visiting Israel. The heads of the Orthodox churches threatened to keep it closed indefinitely until the municipality changed its decision.
"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 [Tzachi] 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," the Prime Minister's Office said in a statement released Tuesday afternoon.
Netanyahu also asked Hanegbi to study the sale of church-owned property in Jerusalem. In the interim, "all legislative activity on the matter will be suspended," the statement read.
"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," it concluded.