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31 May, 2008 01:34

Israel hangs on to Russia’s Holy Land property

Perhaps one the most famous bad deals in history was Russia’s selling Alaska to the Americans for two cents an acre. Less well known was a deal concocted by Soviet Russia in the 1960s to sell valuable properties in the Holy Land. Russia is now trying to r

The Israelis bought a government building from the Soviet Union 44 years ago – for a few bags of oranges.

Since the fall of the USSR, the government in Moscow has been trying to recover property Russia lost in the Holy Land.

Russia’s official presence in the region dates back to the 19th century and the establishment of the Imperial Orthodox Palestine Society.

During the Soviet era the society was obliged to suspend its activities and sell off its assets.

Russia has had some success in recovering its lost property.
A plot of land on the outskirts of Bethlehem, the birthplace of Jesus, was recently handed back by Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas.

There have been other successes as well. Together with the property in Bethlehem, the Palestinian Autonomy has also returned to Russia property in Jericho and on the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem. But it’s only half the story.

Negotiations with Israel about property on their land have not gone quite as smoothly.

“We need to understand Israel is not Christian, it’s a Jewish country. And when our property was lost after the Soviet period, we realised we would have a problem getting it back,” said Pavel Platonov from the Imperial Orthodox Palestine Society.

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has been the driving force behind a deal to return property to Russia. But because he’s involved in a number of corruption charges, both his future and the future of the deal looks uncertain.