Israel expressed disappointment Wednesday at the Vatican’s announcement that it reached the outline of an agreement with the Palestinians and at the Holy See’s use of the term “State of Palestine” for the first time in an official document.
The agreement, according to a Vatican statement, “deals with essential aspects of the life and activity of the Catholic Church in Palestine.”
Both parties, according to the statement, “agreed that the work of the Commission on the text of the Agreement has been concluded, and that the agreement will be submitted to the respective authorities for approval ahead of setting a date in the near future for the signing.”
This agreement between the Vatican and “Palestine,” according to a source in the Foreign Ministry, does not move the peace process forward “and moves the Palestinian leadership further away from returning to direct bilateral relations.”
Israel, the source said, will study the agreement and then decide on its steps accordingly.
Israel and the Vatican have themselves been unable, after some 16 years of glacial negotiations, to sign an agreement that would deal with matters such as the status of the Catholic Church in Israel, the issue of sovereignty over some 21 sites in the country, and taxation and expropriation issues.
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is scheduled to meet Pope Francis a day before the canonization of two Arab nuns who lived in Ottoman-ruled Palestine in the 19th century.
While this may have been the first time that the Vatican used “State of Palestine” in an official document, it is not the first time it has referred to the PA as such in press releases and statements.
“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,” Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi said.
The Vatican welcomed the UN General Assembly’s resolution in 2012 recognizing Palestine as an observer nonmember state, a move that gave the Palestinians the same status at the UN as the Vatican.
Francis used the term “State of Palestine” during his visit last year.
In a related development, one senior diplomat dismissed as “nothing new” a letter a group of prominent former European officials sent European Union foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini urging a significant change in EU Mideast policy.
The group, which calls itself the European Eminent Persons Group, has sent a similar letter each of the past two years as well. The group includes one of Mogherini’s predecessors, Javier Solana, as well as former Spanish foreign minister and Mideast envoy Miguel Moratinos.
The letter asserted that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has “little intention of negotiating seriously for a two-state solution within the term of this incoming Israeli government,” and that tougher steps should be taken to hold Israel accountable for settlement construction.
One ministry official, who refrained from commenting on the content of the letter, said nonetheless that “it was surprising to see this letter published before the government of Israel was officially established.”
If the Europeans really want to assist the peace process, he said, “they should press the Palestinian leadership to return to the negotiations.”