The Vatican officially recognized Palestinian statehood on Wednesday in a statement about a new treaty.
The treaty, which was finalized but not yet signed, signals the Vatican’s diplomatic switch from recognizing the Palestinian Liberation Organization to the “State of Palestine.” Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is scheduled to visit the Vatican on Saturday.
On Wednesday, the Vatican’s statement cited “the Bilateral Commission of the Holy See and the State of Palestine.” In 2012, the Vatican had officially supported the United Nations move to upgrade the Palestinians’ status at the world body to “non-member observer state.” Israel has long maintained that pre-emptive and unilateral recognition of Palestinian statehood would damage hope to forge a negotiated solution with the Palestinians.
The Vatican’s move follows a growing push among Western European countries to recognize Palestinian statehood. A number of European parliaments-including those of the European Union, the U.K., Spain, and France-have recently passed symbolic resolutions calling for Palestinian statehood recognition. The Swedish government, meanwhile, has gone further by formally recognizing a Palestinian state.
“Formal Vatican recognition of Palestine, a state that, in reality, does not yet exist, is a regrettable move, counterproductive to all who seek true peace between Israel and the Palestinians,” said David Harris, executive director of the American Jewish Committee.
Harris added, “We are fully cognizant of the pope’s good will and desire to be a voice for peaceful coexistence, which is best served, we believe, by encouraging a resumption of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, rather than unilateral gestures outside the framework of the negotiating table.”
In May 2014, Pope Francis made his first official trip to Israel as pontiff, in addition to visiting Jordan and the disputed Palestinian territories. In one enduring image from the trip, the pope received some criticism from the pro-Israel community for an unscheduled stop at the Israeli security fence in Bethlehem, which led to a controversial photo-op in which he touched the fence next to anti-Israel graffiti.
Last June, Pope Francis followed up his Middle East trip by hosting then-Israeli president Shimon Peres and Abbas in Rome to “pray for peace.”