Israel Hurriedly Handing Over Jerusalem Compound to Russia
The State of Israel is rapidly evacuating Sergei's Court in central Jerusalem and will hand it over to the Russian Embassy on Tuesday.
Diplomatic sources said that the hurried move is being carried out after Russia made it clear to Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu that it will cancel his planned visit to Moscow next week if Israel does not carry out its commitment to transfer the compound into Russia's hands.
The decision to hand over the court was made in 2008, and was formally announced when then-Prime Minister Ehud Olmert visited Russia. The ownership was transferred to Russia but Israel continued a de facto presence in the compound, which currently contains the Jerusalem offices of the Ministry of Agriculture and the Society for Protection of Nature.
Olmert bowed to Russian diplomatic pressure at the time, and news reports said the relinquishing of the compound was part of an agreement between Russia and Israel that included Russia's abstaining from supplying Iran with sophisticated ground-to-air missiles.
Sergei's Court was owned by Great Duke Sergei Alexandrovich, the uncle of Tzar Nicolai II, in his capacity as the chairman of the Imperial Orthodox Palestinian Society (IOPS).
After the October Revolution, the Soviet government of the USSR claimed to be the legal heir of the property. However, "White Russian" immigrants established an IOPS abroad, and that branch claimed to be the "real" IOPS, thus creating a dispute.
Since 1952, the Israeli General Guardian has had formal legal guardianship and ownership rights to the property. At the beginning of the 1970's, the buildings were leased to the Israel Society for Protection of Nature and the Ministry of Agriculture.
Since diplomatic relations were re-established between Israel and the Soviet Union in the 1980's, the Soviets – and subsequently, the Russians – have repeatedly demanded ownership over the property.
The property is part of a larger compound known as the Russian Compound. Most of that property was legally bought by Israel from the Soviet Union in the 1950s. Lacking cash, Israel paid for the property with a large shipment of oranges.