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Pope Francis will sign a treaty formally recognizing Palestine as a state. The Associated Press on Wednesday said that the treaty, negotiated with Palestinian representatives, “is the first legal document negotiated between the Holy See and the Palestinian state and constitutes an official recognition.”

The Vatican, in taking the action, joins major international entities such as the United Nations and the European Parliament in recognizing Palestinian statehood. The U.N. upgraded the Palestinian delegation’s status in 2012 to that of a nonmember observer state, and in 2014 the European Parliament voted in favor of a nonbinding resolution calling for the recognition of Palestinian statehood as part of a two-state solution.

Of the 193 member states of the United Nations, 135 (69.9 percent) had recognized the State of Palestine as of last Oct. 30. According to The Guardian, this means that the governments of more than 5.5 billion people, 80 percent of the world’s population, have granted recognition.

After last spring’s collapse of talks between the United States and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, the Vatican’s move will no doubt bolster the Palestinian strategy of seeking wider international diplomatic support.

As The New York Times reports:

Hanna Amireh, head of a Palestinian committee on church affairs, said the treaty was a broad one regarding the Vatican’s interests in the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip, including the standing of churches and church courts and taxes on church charities, institutions and lands, as well as other cultural and diplomatic matters. He said it had been under negotiation for about a year.

“The Vatican is the spiritual capital of the Catholics, and they are recognizing Palestine, that’s the chief importance,” said Mr. Amireh, who is also a member of the Palestine Liberation Organization’s executive committee. The move counters an image of Palestinians as militants or terrorists, he added, as a “recognition of the Palestinian character that has a clear message for coexistence and peace.”

A senior Israeli Foreign Ministry official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity under diplomatic protocol, said Israel was “disappointed to hear” about the Vatican’s use of the term “state” in its new treaty.

“This step does not advance the peace process and pushes the Palestinian leadership further away from returning to a direct and bilateral negotiation,” the official said in a statement, echoing Israel’s reactions to a series of recent parliamentary resolutions on Palestinian statehood in European nations. “Israel will study the agreement and consider its next steps accordingly.”

Pope Francis, the leader of the world’s 1 billion Catholics, has long signaled his wish for a Palestinian state. For the past year, the Vatican had informally referred to the country as “state of Palestine,” in its yearbook as well as in its program for Francis’ 2014 visit to the Holy Land.

During that visit, Francis gave an additional boost to Palestinian sovereignty by flying directly to Bethlehem from Amman, Jordan, rather than stopping first in Israel as his predecessors had done.Francis later hosted the Palestinian and Israeli presidents in a prayer for peace.

Read the full report here

–Posted by Roisin Davis

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