On Friday, the Vatican signed a comprehensive treaty with Palestinian authorities, formalizing a basic agreement between the Catholic Church and the PLO back in 2000. In essence, it is a formal declaration of the Holy See’s support for the creation of a Palestinian state and the peace process with Israel. “[I]t is my hope that the present agreement may, in some way, be a stimulus to bringing a definitive end to the long-standing Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which continues to cause suffering for both Parties,” wrote Vatican foreign minister Archbishop Paul Gallagher.
The agreement follows on the Vatican’s decision in May to change the status of its diplomatic relationship with Ramallah, and officially forgo the recognition of the PLO to make way for the State of Palestine. The Catholic Church has referred to a Palestinian state since at least 2012, but the new agreement solidifies the Holy See’s support.
For the Vatican, the decision represents another unabashed and controversial move into the foreign policy arena. It follows efforts to broker Washington’s watershed decision to re-establish relations with Cuba late last year, and the recent release of Pope Francis’ landmark environment-focused encyclical. But it is also a matter of looking after Catholics everywhere. The new agreement specifically notes that it is also meant to deal with “the life and activity of the Church in Palestine.” It also mentions that “Catholics do not seek any privilege other than continued cooperation with their fellow-citizens for the good of society.” As Reuters reported, some 100,000 Catholics live in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories, and most of them identify as Palestinians. For the Church, assertively backing the Palestinian cause and the cause of peace, then, is about protecting its own.
The news is not going over well in Tel Aviv. “This hasty step damages the prospects for advancing a peace agreement, and harms the international effort to convince the Palestinian Authority to return to direct negotiations with Israel,” said Israeli foreign ministry spokesman Emmanuel Nahshon. (Read more from “Israel Decidedly Unhappy With Vatican-Palestine Treaty” HERE)