The Vatican on Wednesday for the first time used the term "the state of Palestine," as part of a new treaty with the Palestinian Authority centering on the Catholic Church's activities in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem.
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A statement released by the Palestinians and the Vatican said both sides have reached a draft agreement that still needs to be approved in the near future before it is made final.
The meaning of Vatican's use of the term "state of Palestine" is not entirely clear. In the early stages of formulating the agreement, several drafts stated that the agreement is between the Vatican and the Palestine Liberation Organization. Now, the final draft says the treaty is between the Vatican and the state of Palestine.
Senior officials at the Foreign Ministry said that at this point, Israel does not view the treaty as a recognition of Palestine by the Vatican, and is waiting for further clarifications from the Vatican's Foreign Ministry. On the other hand, Vatican Spokesman Rev. Federico Lombardi told reporters on Wednesday that "it's a recognition that the state [Palestine] exists."
Despite its blurred significance, a senior official at the Foreign Ministry criticized the Vatican's move. "Israel was disappointed to hear about the Holy See's decision to agree on a final text of an agreement with the Palestinians, that includes the term 'the state of Palestine,'" he said. "This move does not advance the peace process and further distances the Palestinian leadership from returning to direct and bilateral negotiations. Israel will examine the agreement and weigh its actions accordingly."
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas will arrive at the Vatican on Saturday for a meeting with Pope Francis. It is unclear whether there is a connection between the treaty's wording and the visit, or whether the pope will officially announce the Vatican's recognition of Palestine during Abbas' visit.