The Vatican signed a legal agreement with the State of Palestine to safeguard the activities of the Catholic Church, drawing an immediate rebuke from Israel.
The move formalizes the Vatican’s recognition of Palestinian statehood that dates back to a 2012 non-binding vote in the United Nations General Assembly. The Holy See was among the 138 members that voted in favor, with nine countries against, notably the U.S., which has kept a binding resolution from coming before the Security Council.
Israel’s Foreign Ministry said in a text message that the Vatican’s actions are “disappointing” and the move “does not promote the peace process and distances the Palestinian leadership from returning to direct and bilateral negotiations.”
For Palestinians, who last month joined the International Criminal Court, the Vatican’s latest steps mark a milestone in their campaign for statehood. The recognition “goes beyond the political and legal into the symbolic and moral domains,” said Hanan Ashrawi, a member of the Palestine Liberation Organization’s executive committee and a longtime negotiator in peace talks with Israel.
As leader of 1.2 billion Catholics, the papacy’s actions carry political weight even if the Holy See is a tiny sovereign state. In a visit last year to Israel, Pope Francis drew attention to the plight of Palestinians by praying in Bethlehem near graffiti that read “Free Palestine.”