Vatican Signs Historic Accord with Palestine

Gaza Pope Image Source: michael_swan, Flickr, Creative Commons.

Gaza Pope
Image Source: michael_swan, Flickr, Creative Commons.

Vatican City (IMEMC) – The State of Palestine signed an historic accord with the Vatican on Friday, two years after the Catholic body recognized it as a state.

“For the first time, the agreement includes an official recognition by the Holy See of Palestine as a State, in recognition of the right of the Palestinian people to self-determination, freedom and dignity in an independent state of their own, free from the shackles of occupation,” PA Foreign Minister Riad al-Maliki said, according to Ma’an.

“It would not have been possible without the blessing of his Holiness Pope Francis for our efforts to reach it,” he added.

Al-Maliki said the “historic” accord enshrined Palestine’s special status as the birthplace of Christianity and the cradle of the monotheistic religions — Christianity, Islam, and Judaism.

Paul Gallagher, a British archbishop who is the Vatican’s de facto foreign minister, signed the accord on behalf of the Holy See in the presence of guests including Vera Baboun, the mayor of Bethlehem, the Palestinian town considered to be the birthplace of Jesus Christ.

Gallagher said the accord’s provisions to ensure the rights of Christians should serve as a model for other Arab and Muslim states in their relations with Christian minorities facing increasing persecution in the Middle East. He said it was “indicative of the progress made by the Palestinian Authority in recent years, and above all of the level of international support (for recognition).”

“In this context, it 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,” Gallagher said.

“I also hope that the much desired two-State solution may become a reality as soon as possible. The peace process can move forward only if it is directly negotiated between the parties, with the support of the international community.”

“This certainly requires courageous decisions, but it will also offer a major contribution to peace and stability in the region.”

Upon celebrating the Vatican signing, Maliki reiterated the commitment of Palestine “to combat extremism, and to promote tolerance, freedom of consciousness and religion, and to equally safeguard the rights of all its citizens,” in the process of establishing an independent Palestinian state.

Maliki toted the agreement as proof of Palestine’s value for co-existence and equality that he said was at risk from extremism in the region.

After 15 years of negotiations, the treaty was agreed on in principle last month, sparking a backlash from Israeli leadership who argued it was a step-back in the peace process.

The PA considers the Vatican one of 136 countries to have recognized Palestine as a state, although the number is disputed and several recognitions by what are now European Union member states date back to the Soviet era.

The Vatican has had diplomatic relations with Israel since 1993 but has yet to conclude an accord on the Church’s rights in the state, which has been under discussion since 1999.

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The Vatican came under fire from Israel Friday after signing a historic first accord with Palestine, two years after officially recognizing it as a state.

The accord, which covers the activities of the Church in the occupied Palestinian territories, was the first since the Vatican recognized Palestine as a state in February 2013.

The product of 15 years of discussions, the agreement was finalized in principle last month.

Palestinian Foreign Minister Riad Al-Maliki said at Friday’s signing ceremony that it would “not have been possible without the blessing of his Holiness Pope Francis for our efforts to reach it.”

The minister said the “historic” accord enshrined Palestine’s special status as the birthplace of Christianity and the cradle of the monotheistic religions (Christianity, Islam, Judaism).

Paul Gallagher, the British archbishop who is the Vatican’s de facto foreign minister, signed the accord on behalf of the Holy See in the presence of guests including Vera Baboun, the mayor of Bethlehem, the Palestinian town considered to be the birthplace of Jesus Christ.

However, Israel has consistently sought to express its opposition to both the symbolism of Palestine signing international accords and the specific content of the agreement.

“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,” Israeli foreign ministry spokesman Emmanuel Nahshon said in a statement.

Gallagher said the accord’s provisions to ensure the rights of Christians should serve as a model for other Arab and Muslim states in their relations with Christian minorities facing increasing persecution in the Middle East.

He said it was “indicative of the progress made by the Palestinian Authority in recent years, and above all of the level of international support (for recognition).”

“In this context, it 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.

“I also hope that the much desired two-state solution may become a reality as soon as possible. The peace process can move forward only if it is directly negotiated between the parties, with the support of the international community,” Gallagher said.

“This certainly requires courageous decisions, but it will also offer a major contribution to peace and stability in the region.”

The Vatican’s recognition of the state of Palestine followed a November 2012 vote in favor of recognition by the UN General Assembly.

The Palestinian Authority considers the Vatican one of 136 states to have recognized Palestine’s sovereign status, although the number is disputed and several recognition by what are now European Union member states date back to the Soviet era.

The Vatican has had diplomatic relations with Israel since 1993 but has yet to conclude an accord on the Church’s rights in Israel which has been under discussion since 1999, with issues related to the status of Jerusalem proving hard to overcome.

Nahshon alleged the Vatican-Palestinian accord contained “one sided texts” which “ignore the historic rights of the Jewish people in the Land of Israel and to the places holy to Judaism in Jerusalem.”

He added: “Israel will study the agreement in detail, and its implications for future cooperation between Israel and the Vatican.”