The Vatican announced Wednesday that it would be signing a treaty that recognized the “state of Palestine,” rather than the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), which is the sole representative of the Palestinian people in the disputed territories.
This treaty, which has been in negotiations for 15 years, “deals with essential aspects of the life and activity of the Catholic Church in Palestine,” a Vatican statement said. Palestinians say these aspects relate to properties, taxes and protocol at holy sites.
Although the Vatican had welcomed the 2012 decision by the United Nations General Assembly to recognize a Palestinian non-member state, this is the first time that it has recognized it in such a significant legal document with the Palestinian Authority. Nevertheless, the Vatican has been referring to a Palestinian state for at least a year, and when Pope Francis visited Israel last year.
Director of the Holy See Press Office, Fr. Federico Lombardi confirmed that the recognition has become official.
“Yes, it’s a recognition that the state exists,” he told the press. (Times of Israel)
Israel immediately expressed concern. Foreign Ministry spokesman Emmanuel Nahshon said, “We’re disappointed by the decision taken by the Holy See. We believe that such a decision is not conducive to bringing the Palestinians back to the negotiating table.”
Jewish groups condemned the move, as well, with the American Jewish Committee saying it was “counterproductive to all who seek true peace between Israel and the Palestinians.” (AP)
The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) called the move “premature”: “We appreciate that the Vatican’s basic intention is to promote Israeli-Palestinian reconciliation, but believe that this diplomatic recognition will be unhelpful to that end,” the ADL’s Abraham Foxman said.
The announcement comes on the heels of a Catholic-Jewish interfaith conference held near the Sea of Galilee in recognition of fifty years of relations since the historical Nostra Aetate declaration formally rejecting the Jewish people’s blame for Jesus’s death.
Among the 400 attending the three-day event were seven cardinals, 20 bishops, several Israeli politicians and many well-known artists and educators of both the Catholic and Jewish faiths.
While noting the increased trend toward anti-Semitism in Europe today, the rabbis present commented on improvements in Catholic-Jewish relations since the publishing of the declaration. In a joint statement, the rabbis proclaimed: “An immense change from the prejudices and divisions of the past is being born. This event foreshadows a new spring, the birth of something new in the relationship between Judaism and Christianity.” (Times of Israel)
Although it is widely recognized that this Pope cares about the Jewish People, this recognition of a Palestinian state reveals that something is missing in his understanding of the issues.
“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.” (NYT)
Both the United States and Israel agree that the recognition of a Palestinian state without proper negotiations undermines efforts to resolve the underlying conflict.
US support of a negotiated solution, however, did not prevent President Obama from referring to Israel as an occupational force a day prior to the Vatican’s announcement.
In an interview with the London-based Arab language newspaper Asharq al-Awsat, Obama said “Palestinians deserve an end to the occupation and the daily indignities that come with it. That’s why we’ve worked so hard over the years for a two-state solution and to develop innovative ways to address Israel’s security and Palestinian sovereignty needs.”
He also spoke of including Gaza in such a two-state solution and integrating the Strip into Judea and Samaria. (YNet)
The president’s use of the term “occupation” is more than outrageous since Judea and Samaria is not occupied but disputed. The use of such terms as “occupied” and “occupation” are deliberate attempts to delegitimize Israel’s presence in territories that are subject to negotiation.
Prior to the June 1967 Six Day War, the land was occupied for 19 years by Jordan. Before that, it had formally formed a part of the British Mandate of Palestine. When the Mandate ended in 1948 and Israel declared itself a state, Jordan used its military might to take control of the area. Five Arab armies attacked the nascent state simultaneously.
The area has been held by Israeli forces since 1967 and was being returned to the PLO in phases through negotiation, in accordance with the 1994 Oslo accord—however, two Palestinian intifadas and a string of terrorist attacks on Israeli soil have essentially nullified that agreement.