Photo Credit: Hadas Parush / Flash 90
View of the closed doors of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem's Old City on February 25, 2018.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat set up a team on Tuesday (Feb. 27) to resolve a fierce dispute by Jerusalem’s Christian churches over city taxes.

The Church of the Holy Sepulchre closed its doors to the public over the weekend to protest property taxes allegedly owed by Christian churches to the city and a proposed new Knesset law affecting church property. The church doors remained locked on Monday, and church officials said they weren’t sure when they would reopen the house of worship.

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It was agreed the team, led by Minister Tzachi Hanegbi, would “negotiate with the representatives of the churches to resolve the issue” in formulating a solution on the issue of “municipal taxes on properties owned by churches that are not houses of worship,” said a statement by the Prime Minister’s Office.

The team is to include representatives of the Ministries of Finance, Foreign Affairs and the Interior and the Jerusalem Municipality, and will formulate a solution to the issue of municipal taxes, which do not apply to houses of worship,” the statement said. “As a result, the Jerusalem Municipality is suspending the collection actions it has taken in recent weeks.”

In addition, the Knesset will suspend all legislative activity on the new tax law regarding church property during work by the team.

“Following a request by the heads of the churches to enter negotiations regarding the sale of land in Jerusalem, Prime Minister Netanyahu has asked Minister Hanegbi to examine the issue.

“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,” the PMO added. “Israel is home to a flourishing Christian community and welcomes its Christian friends from all over the world.”

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