by Lady Michelle Jennifer Santos
26 June 2015, ROME (TSR) – The Holy See signed a Comprehensive Treaty Agreement with the “State of Palestine” on Friday at the Vatican Apostolic Palace, saying it hoped its legal recognition of the state would help stimulate peace with Israel and that the treaty itself would serve as a model for other Mideast countries.
The accord follows on the Basic Agreement which was signed between the Holy See and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) on 15 February 2000 and is the result of the negotiations undertaken by a bilateral working commission over the past number of years.
His Excellency Archbishop Paul R. Gallagher, Secretary for Relations with States, signed for the Holy See and His Excellency Dr. Riad Al-Malki, Minister of Foreign Affairs, signed for the State of Palestine.
The Agreement is comprised of a Preamble and 32 Articles distributed in 8 Chapters. It deals with essential aspects of the life and activity of the Catholic Church in the State of Palestine, while reaffirming support for a negotiated and peaceful resolution of the situation in the region.
“The Comprehensive Agreement, while constituting an understanding between two subjects of international law, basically concerns the life and activity of the Church in Palestine. In this respect, I am pleased that juridical recognition is clearly established and that guarantees have been given for the work of the Catholic Church and her institutions”, the Archbishop said.
Dr. Malki confirms that the agreement is comprehensive.
“Its provisions span the shared vision of the two Parties for peace and justice in the region, the protection of fundamental freedoms, the status and protection of Holy Sites, and the means of enhancing and furthering the presence and activities of the Roman Catholic Church in the State of Palestine”, he said.
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. It also supports the vision for peace and justice in the region in accordance with international law and based on two states, living side by side in peace and security, on the basis of the 1967 borders.
Another thing about the agreement is that also reinforces new and unprecedented provisions related to the special status of Palestine as the birthplace of Christianity and as the cradle of monolithic religions.
The Agreement shall come into force when both Parties have notified each other in writing that the constitutional or internal requirements for the coming into force of the Agreement have been met.
Gallagher said he hoped the Vatican’s recognition “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” and “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”, he noted.
He said that he hoped the treaty could serve as a model for the church in other Mideast countries, where Christians are a minority and often persecuted.
“This Agreement offers a good example of dialogue and cooperation,” the Archbishop said.
Catholics do not seek any privilege other than continued cooperation with their fellow-citizens for the good of society. I am also pleased to say that the local Church, which has been actively involved in the negotiations, is satisfied with the goal attained and is happy to see the strengthening of its good relations with the civil Authorities.
“I earnestly hope that this may serve as a model for other Arab and Muslim majority countries. With this in mind, I would like to emphasize the importance of the chapter dedicated to freedom of religion and freedom of conscience”, he added.
The Vatican had welcomed the decision by the U.N. General Assembly in 2012 to recognize a Palestinian state and had referred to the Palestine state since. But the treaty marked its first legal recognition of the Palestinian territory as a state.
Al-Malki called the treaty an “historic agreement” and said it marked “a 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.”
The following took part in the solemn act:
For the Holy See: His Excellency Archbishop Giuseppe Lazzarotto, Apostolic Delegate to Jerusalem and Palestine; His Excellency Archbishop Antonio Franco, Apostolic Nuncio; His Beatitude Fouad Twal, Patriarch of Jerusalem of the Latins;
Mgr. Antoine Camilleri, Under-Secretary for the Holy See’s Relations with States; Rev. Fr. Lorenzo Lorusso, O.P., Under-Secretary of the Congregation for the Oriental Churches; Mgr. Alberto Ortega, Official of the Section for Relations with States of the Secretariat of State; Mgr. Paolo Borgia, Official of the Section for General Affairs of the Secretariat of State; and Rev. Fr. Oscar Marzo, O.F.M., member of the Custody of the Holy Land and Official of the Congregation for the Oriental Churches.
For the State of Palestine: His Excellency Dr. Ramzi Khoury, Advisor to the President, Deputy Head of the Presidential Higher Committee on Church Affairs in Palestine; Ambassador Issa Kassissieh, Representative of the State of Palestine to the Holy See; Ambassador Rawan Sulaiman, Assistant Foreign Minister for Multilateral Affairs; Mrs. Vera Baboun, Mayor of Bethlehem; Mr. Moussa Abu Hadeed, Mayor of Ramallah; Mr. Ammar Hijazi, Deputy Assistant Foreign Minister for Multilateral Affairs; Mr. Azem Bishara, Legal Advisor of the PLO; Mr. Ammar Nisnas, Counselor of the Diplomatic Representation of the State of Palestine to the Holy See.
Israel Angrily Criticizes the Vatican
The United States and Israel oppose recognizing the Palestinian state, arguing that it undermines U.S.-led efforts to negotiate an Israeli-Palestinian deal on the terms of Palestinian statehood. Most countries in Western Europe have held off on recognition, but some have hinted that their position could change if peace efforts remain deadlocked.
The Israeli Foreign Ministry said Friday in response that it “regrets” the Vatican’s decision to sign the “one-sided” text.
“This hasty step damages the prospects for advancing a peace agreement, and harms the international effort to convince the PA to return to direct negotiations with Israel,” the Foreign Ministry said in a statement.
“We also regret the one-sided texts in the agreement which ignore the historic rights of the Jewish people in the Land of Israel and to the places holy to Judaism in Jerusalem. Israel cannot accept the unilateral determinations in the agreement which do not take into account Israel’s essential interests and the special historic status of the Jewish people in Jerusalem,” the statement added.
“The Palestinians continue to act unilaterally which distances us from any chance of holding direct dialogue,” said Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely.
“I regret that the Vatican decided to participate in a step that blatantly ignores the history of the Jewish people in Israel and Jerusalem. Any attempt by the Palestinians, or any other actor to undermine our historic right to Jerusalem and our country will met by staunch opposition by us,” she said.
The treaty makes clear that the Holy See has switched its diplomatic relations from the Palestinian Liberation Organization to the State of Palestine.
The Vatican had welcomed the decision by the UN General Assembly in 2012 to recognize a Palestinian state. But the treaty is the first legal document negotiated between the Holy See and the Palestinian state and constitutes an official recognition.
Pope Francis named two Palestinian women as saints on May 17, in a ceremony in Saint Peter’s Square just days after the Vatican formalized its de facto recognition of the State of Palestine.
The Vatican has been referring unofficially to the state of Palestine for at least a year, according to Times of Israel.
During Pope Francis’ 2014 visit to the Holy Land, the Vatican’s official program referred to Abbas as the president of the “state of Palestine.” In the Vatican’s latest yearbook, the Palestinian ambassador to the Holy See is listed as representing “Palestine (state of).”
The Vatican’s foreign minister, Monsignor Antoine Camilleri, acknowledged the change in status, given that the treaty was initially inked with the PLO and is now being finalized with the “state of Palestine.” But he said the shift was simply in line with the Holy See’s position.
The Holy See clearly tried to underplay the development, suggesting that its 2012 press statement welcoming the UN vote constituted its first official recognition. Nowhere in that statement does the Vatican say it recognizes the state of Palestine, and the Holy See couldn’t vote for the UN resolution because it doesn’t have voting rights at the General Assembly, The Times of Israel stated.
The 2012 UN vote recognized Palestine as a non-member observer state, made up of the West Bank, Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem, lands Israel captured in the 1967 Mideast war.
The Palestinians celebrated the vote as a milestone in their quest for international recognition. Most countries in Africa, Asia and South America have individually recognized Palestine. In Western Europe, Sweden took the step last year, while several parliaments have approved non-binding motions urging recognition.
Lady Michelle Jennifer Santos is the Chief Visionary Founder and Owner of TheSantosRepublic. You can follow her at Twitter @mj_santos and Facebook/ladymjsantos