An agreement released Wednesday is the Vatican’s first official document referring to Palestine as a state, a step that constitutes effective recognition of the disputed territory as a country of its own.
The Holy See, the official entity representing the Roman Catholic Church’s interests abroad, published the text of the treaty ahead of its being officially signed. The agreement involves “essential aspects of the life and activity of the Catholic Church in Palestine,” and moves toward normalizing direct diplomacy between the Holy See and the Palestinians.
As peace talks have stalled between Israel and the Palestinians in recent years, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ latest strategy has been to seek regular status in international venues, such as the United Nations and associated agencies. Late last year, Abbas formally submitted for membership in the International Criminal Court, a move which he hopes will lead to an investigation of war crimes perpetrated against Palestine by Israel. (RELATED: Palestinians’ International Court Membership Opens Door To Suing Israel)
Previously, the Vatican was represented in the Palestinian territories through an informal “apostolic delegation” to the Palestine Liberation Organization. It also maintains an apostolic nunciature, the equivalent of a regular embassy, in Israel.
Pope Francis has made the resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict a key goal of his reign. Last summer, he hosted Abbas and Israeli President Shimon Peres at the Vatican for a “prayer summit” as a sign of good faith between the leaders.
Before the treaty was announced, Francis was already scheduled to meet with Abbas on Saturday. On Sunday, he will recognize two 19th-century Palestinian nuns as Catholic saints, with Abbas in attendance. (RELATED: Was The Cuba Deal A Papal Blessing?)
Christians constitute just under ten percent of the Palestinian Arabs in the West Bank, a heritage which they trace to the time of Jesus. Members of denominations including Roman Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy and various Protestant churches have historically been active in Palestinian society and politics. Due to decades of instability in the Palestinian territories, many Palestinian Christians have sought refuge in Europe and the Americas.
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