“Vatican to Sign First Treaty With ‘State of Palestine,’” by Francis X. Rocca, Wall Street Journal, May 13, 2015 (thanks to Christian):
ROME—The Vatican said it would soon sign its first treaty with the “State of Palestine,” lending legal weight to a recognition it has extended for more than two years and drawing swift criticism from Israel.
The Holy See has had diplomatic relations with the Palestinians since 1994, and has referred to the “State of Palestine” in official documents since the United Nations admitted a Palestinian nonmember observer state in 2012.
The agreement announced Wednesday, which a joint Vatican-Palestinian statement said will be signed in the near future, is the result of talks that began in 2000.
It comes four days before Pope Francis canonizes two Palestinian saints in St. Peter’s Square. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas is expected to attend the ceremony.
The treaty’s text wasn’t released, but Msgr. Antoine Camilleri, the Holy See’s chief negotiator with the Palestinians, told the Vatican-run newspaper the accord covers the activities and legal status of the Catholic Church in the Palestinian Territories.
A “very elaborate and detailed” section deals with “religious freedom and freedom of conscience,” Msgr. Camilleri said. Other sections deal with property and tax questions, as well as the scope of Catholic media and charitable activities. Msgr. Camilleri voiced hope other Muslim-majority countries would follow the Palestinian example of recognizing the religious freedom of Christians and other minorities.
He said he also hoped the deal would help, “if only in an indirect way,” to promote the recognition of Palestinian statehood and the realization of a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Israel decried the recognition. “Israel was disappointed to hear of the Holy See’s decision to agree to the final version of the agreement with the Palestinians,” said Israel’s foreign ministry. “This does not promote the peace process and a Palestinian return to the negotiations. Israel will study the agreement and consider its next stepsaccordingly.”
In Washington, Obama administration officials were reserved in their reaction to the Vatican move, refraining from offering any criticism or expressing disappointment. Instead, State Department spokesman Jeff Rathke reiterated the U.S. position – that Palestinian statehood must result from negotiations with Israel, and not be imposed by outside nations or international institutions.
Israel has been on the defensive diplomatically, as the Palestinians push state recognition in international organizations. Israeli diplomats and experts expect international pressure on the country to rise in response to concerns Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s new conservative government won’t promote a two-state solution. His coalition partner Jewish Home calls for the annexation of 60% of the West Bank.
The U.S. generally defends Israel from outside pressure. But that stance has been shifting inrecent months. During the height of friction between the U.S. and Israeli governments over Mr. Netanyahu’s March address to the U.S. Congress, the White House signaled a possible change, saying it might not reject U.N. demands for a settlement of differences between the two sides.
Palestinian officials said the pending Vatican agreement was another example of solidifying international support for recognizing that the WestBank, the Gaza Strip and East Jerusalemconstitute a sovereign state under occupation by Israel, territories Israel considers disputed.
“It’s recognition that Palestinians are acting on their commitment to the two-state solution, while Israel is deliberately destroying it,’’ said Hanan Ashrawi, a senior official in the Palestine Liberation Organization. “We look at the Vatican recognition as having more than just diplomatic significance. It also has symbolic and moral significance.’’…