On Wednesday, the Vatican announced that it is to sign a new treaty that includes recognition of the “state of Palestine,” which lends significant symbolic weight to an intensifying Palestinian push for international support for sovereignty that bypasses the negotiations with Israel, which have come to a standstill.
Vatican recognizes Palestine
The treaty, which concerns the activities of the Catholic Church in Palestinian territory, is both deeply symbolic and makes explicit that the Holy See has switched its diplomatic recognition from the Palestine Liberation Organization to the state of Palestine.
“The Vatican is not just a state. The Vatican represents hundreds of millions of Christians worldwide, including Palestinians, and has vast moral significance,” said Husam Zomlot, a senior Palestinian foreign-affairs official.
Israel’s Foreign Ministry said it was “disappointed” by the Vatican’s decision, and that the recognition would “not advance the peace process,” echoing similar statements after a wave of European Parliamentary resolutions on Palestinian statehood back in 2014.
“Even this philo-Semitic pope, this pope who cares about the Jews, even he doesn’t get it,” said David Horovitz, editor of The Times of Israel news site. “Every time something like this happens, there’s this sense of anguish. Why don’t you understand? We want to separate from the Palestinians, but on terms that don’t threaten our security.”
The Vatican treaty announcement came as Israel’s new, more conservative government published its official guidelines, which are filled with promises and plans to “advance the peace process” and “make an effort to reach a peace agreement with the Palestinians,” but did not use the term ‘Palestinian state’.
While the language followed that of past coalition agreements, it caught attention because some world leaders have lately been questioning Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s commitment to the two-state solution of the long-running conflict.
Prior to the elections, Mr. Netanyahu said that no Palestinian state would be established on his watch, and following his victory, still stood by the idea, but saw it as impossible under current conditions.
Following Netanyahu’s statements, US President Barack Obama said that he would “reassess” Washington’s longstanding policy of defending Israel in international forums, but that he is looking “to the new Israeli government and the Palestinians to demonstrate, through policies and actions, a genuine commitment to a two-state solution.”
At the moment, it is fairly clear that Netanyahu “has little intention of negotiating seriously for a two-state solution” and that there is “low confidence that the U.S. government will be in a position to take a lead on fresh negotiations,” read a letter published in The Guardian.
Since the breakdown of American-brokered peace talks 13 months ago, the Palestinians have been on a diplomatic campaign to leverage the non-member, observer-state status they won in the United Nations in 2012 and create pressure on Israel.
Most of the 135 nations that have recognized a state of Palestine did so in 1988, after the Palestine Liberation Organization declared it; Sweden was the last, in October. The British, French, Spanish and Irish Parliaments have in recent months passed resolutions urging their governments to follow suit.
In official functions, the Vatican has already dealt with Palestine as a state, and has openly welcomed its ambassador. Last spring, Pope Francis made a grand gesture that his predecessors would not dream of; he flew directly to the West Bank from Amman rather than first landing in Israel. But the treaty, which had been under negotiation for a year and used “Palestine Liberation Organization” rather than “State of Palestine” in earlier drafts, formalizes the recognition.