The Vatican Recognizes Palestine, But What Does This Mean for Israel?

by Daniel Newcomer

Pope Francis and the Vatican hold sway over 1.2 billion Roman Catholics in the world, from the 483 million estimated in South America to the 277 million in Europe and 85 million in North America.

Although the recently released Religious Landscape Study shows a decline in Christianity in the United States, Pope Francis still ranks as the fourth most powerful person in the world. Since beginning the papacy in 2013, Pope Francis has made several changes to traditional Christian thought.

On Wednesday, May 13, the Vatican inadvertently ruffled international feathers by announcing it would sign a treaty concerning activities of the Catholic Church in Palestine territory -- a treaty that also features written recognition of the “state of Palestine." Previously, these negotiations acknowledged the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO).

Vatican spokesperson Rev. Federico Lombardi confirmed this, saying,

Yes, it's a recognition that the state exists.

The Vatican's recognition of Palestine has ignited the news wire even though the United Nations General Assembly voted to recognize Palestine as a “non-member observer state” back in 2012, which the Vatican welcomed.

The Vatican has also referred to a “state of Palestine” in its communiqués, and in Pope Francis's 2014 visits to the Holy Land, he referred directly to the “state of Palestine” in the West Bank.

The Diplomacy of the Vatican

As of now, the symbolism of this recent gesture reinforces the idea of a two-state solution between Israel and Palestine.

Husam Zomlot, a Palestinian foreign-affairs official, said,

The Vatican is not just a state. The Vatican represents hundreds of millions of Christians worldwide, including Palestinians and has vast moral significance.

Israel wasn't very happy, which isn't much of a surprise in this case.

Israel's Foreign Ministry was “disappointed,” and David Horovitz, an editor of The Times of Israel, mentioned a “sense of anguish” and reminded the world:

We want to separate from the Palestinians, but on terms that don't threaten our security.

Republican Jeff Duncan had some words for the Pope as well, saying,

It's interesting how the Vatican has gotten so political when ultimately the Vatican ought to be working to lead people to Jesus Christ and salvation, and that's what the Church is supposed to do.

Since the PLO declared support for a two-state solution in 1988, 135 UN member nations have recognized an independent state of Palestine, though the United States and Western Europe (aside from Sweden and Iceland) have not quite reached this point.

The Significance of Recognizing Palestine

The Vatican's announcement comes 13 months after American-brokered peace talks in the Holy Land broke down. It also comes after Hamas and its allies fired nearly 4,500 rockets into Israel in the summer of 2014, the ongoing Iran-US nuclear deals and the rise of ISIS and extremist groups in Iraq, Syria and Lebanon. It is clear that Israeli fears are, at least, understandable.

But on the Palestinian side, the United Nations has also reported there are 4.8 million Palestinian refugees in the world, making them the largest refugee group.

Israeli settlement continues in East Jerusalem, which has been condemned as illegal by most world leaders and has received harsh warnings from President Obama.

Heck, the Vatican announcement is yet another brick on top of the wall of blood, death, starvation, pissed-off religious factions and ongoing tensions that began with Jewish genocide and migration in WWII Europe as well as massive Palestinian displacement and massacre that occurred after the war.

At the same time, however, the announcement reflects the growing international sentiment for peace in the region and a two-state solution.

Speaking with L'Osservatore Romano, the daily newspaper of Vatican City, Vatican deputy foreign minister Monsignor Antoine Camilleri said it would be “positive if the accord could in some way help with the establishment and recognition of an independent, sovereign and democratic State of Palestine which lives in peace and security with Israel and its neighbors.”

Some groups said the announcement harmed current negotiations regarding a two-state solution.

In a press release, Anti-Defamation League National Director Abraham Foxman stated that the treaty was “premature” and that the diplomatic recognition would not be helpful and would “undermine the only real solution to the decades-old conflict.”

European Jewish Congress President Moshe Kantor expressed similar sentiment, saying it would “diminish the chances of a negotiated peaceful resolution of the conflict and embolden extremists.”

A Move Toward Greater Peace in the Middle East

These statements regarding the Vatican announcement appear odd from an objective standpoint considering, by circling backward, most of the world already recognizes Palestine and some parliaments in Western Europe have approved non-binding motions urging recognition.

At the same time, however, the right-wing government under Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been accused of actively undermining the prospects of a two-state solution.

Whether the Vatican's more formal recognition of Palestine promotes or undermines peace or whether it will have no effect due to Israeli policy and continual settlement is hard to say.

But the Vatican announcement has made it clear that the future of US and EU politics and diplomacy regarding Palestine and a two-state solution will have significant effects on the Palestinian people and civic involvement, especially through the younger generation.

It could also play a role in what might be the first steps toward the end of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Citations: Vatican recognizes state of Palestine in new treaty (Associated Press), Vatican agrees first treaty with State of Palestine, solidifying relationship (Reuters), Vatican to Recognize Palestinian State in New Treaty (New York Times)