Israel expressed its disappointment late Wednesday with the Vatican for its acceptance of an outline agreement with the Palestinians that will set the stage for a future formal recognition of a Palestinian state.
The agreement also saw the Holy See’s first use of the term “State of Palestine” in an official document.
A source inside the Foreign Ministry told media that the agreement is harmful to the peace process between Israel and the Palestinians “and moves the Palestinian leadership further away from returning to direct bilateral relations.”
The source added that Israel was “disappointed” by the Vatican’s decision.
According to a spokesperson for the Vatican, the agreement “deals with essential aspects of the life and activity of the Catholic Church in Palestine.”
Hanna Amireh, head of a Palestinian committee on church affairs and also a member of the Palestine Liberation Organization’s executive committee, articulated the same sentiment. “The Vatican is the spiritual capital of the Catholics, and they are recognizing Palestine, that’s the chief importance,” said Amireh in a statement.
He explained that the agreement discussed the Vatican’s interests in the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip, as well as the status of churches, church courts, the taxation of church charities, institutions, lands, and a variety of other cultural and diplomatic issues.
The Vatican has long been a proponent of peace between the Palestinians and Israel. However, Israel is worried that this move will cause the Palestinians to lose incentive in returning to the negotiating table.
Israel has decided to study the agreement and then take appropriate actions accordingly.
For over 16 years Israel and the Vatican have been engaged in ongoing discussions, without conclusions, regarding the status of the Catholic Church in Israel, the issue of sovereignty over 21 sites in the country, as well as a variety of taxation issues.
While this was the first time that the Vatican used the term “ State of Palestine” in an official document, the Vatican has made reference to the Palestinian Authority as representatives of the “State of Palestine” in previous statements and press releases.
“We have recognized the State of Palestine ever since it was given recognition by the United Nations and it is already listed as the State of Palestine in our official yearbook,” said Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi.
In 2012, a UN General Assembly resolution recognized “Palestine” as an observer non-member state, a move that gave the Palestinians the same status at the UN that the Vatican itself holds.
One of the many reasons that the move has angered Israel so much is that this move lends legitimacy to PA President Mahmoud Abbas’ push to declare statehood without negotiating with Israel.