Accord includes Vatican's first official recognition of Palestine as a State
VATICAN CITY — The Vatican has announced the historic signing of a Comprehensive Agreement between the Holy See and the State of Palestine, which includes the Holy See’s first official recognition of Palestine as a State.
The accord, signed on Friday in the Vatican Apostolic Palace, follows on the Basic Agreement which was signed between the Holy See and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) on February 15, 2000 and is the result of the negotiations undertaken by a bilateral working commission over the past number of years.
His Excellency Archbishop Paul R. Gallagher, Secretary for Relations with States, signed for the Holy See and His Excellency Dr. Riad Al-Malki, Minister of Foreign Affairs, signed for the State of Palestine.
The Agreement is comprised of a Preamble and 32 Articles distributed in 8 Chapters. It deals with essential aspects of the life and activity of the Catholic Church in the State of Palestine, while reaffirming support for a negotiated and peaceful resolution of the situation in the region.
The Agreement shall come into force when both Parties have notified each other in writing that the constitutional or internal requirements for the coming into force of the Agreement have been met.
In an address delivered at the Signing Ceremony on Friday, His Excellency Archbishop Paul Richard Gallagher, Secretary for Relations with States of the Holy See, explained in greater detail the significance of the Holy See’s accord with Palestine. Addressing Palestine’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Dr. Riad Al-Malki, he said:
I would like, first and foremost, to welcome you and your Delegation to the Secretariat of State, on the auspicious occasion of the signing of the Comprehensive Agreement between the Holy See and the State of Palestine, which marks an important step on the path of good relations which for some time have happily existed between the Parties.
This present Agreement follows on from the Basic Agreement between the Holy See and the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO), which was signed on 15 February 2000. It is the result of the negotiations of a special Bilateral Commission which has worked at various levels over recent years, with dedication and competence, in a most cordial atmosphere.
In contrast with the earlier Agreement, the present one is being signed by the Holy See and the State of Palestine; this is indicative of the progress made by the Palestinian Authority in recent years, and above all of the level of international support, which culminated in the Resolution of the General Assembly of the United Nations of 29 November 2012, which recognized Palestine as a non-member Observer State at the United Nations.
In this context, it is my hope that the present Agreement may in some way be a stimulus to bringing a definitive end to the long-standing Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which continues to cause suffering for both Parties. I also hope that the much desired two-State solution may become a reality as soon as possible. The peace process can move forward only if it is directly negotiated between the Parties, with the support of the international community. This certainly requires courageous decisions, but it will also offer a major contribution to peace and stability in the region.
The Comprehensive Agreement, while constituting an understanding between two subjects of international law, basically concerns the life and activity of the Church in Palestine. In this respect, I am pleased that juridical recognition is clearly established and that guarantees have been given for the work of the Catholic Church and her institutions. Catholics do not seek any privilege other than continued cooperation with their fellow-citizens for the good of society. I am also pleased to say that the local Church, which has been actively involved in the negotiations, is satisfied with the goal attained and is happy to see the strengthening of its good relations with the civil Authorities.
In the complex reality of the Middle East, where in some countries Christians have even suffered persecution, this Agreement offers a good example of dialogue and cooperation, and I earnestly hope that this may serve as a model for other Arab and Muslim majority countries. With this in mind, I would like to emphasize the importance of the chapter dedicated to freedom of religion and freedom of conscience.
To conclude, may I once again reaffirm the Holy See’s particular solicitude for the Middle East and for the Holy Land, and its joy at the Agreement that has been reached, which I am hopeful will take effect without delay. Thank you!
Following Archbishop Gallagher’s remarks, Dr. Al-Malki made the following remarks:
Esteemed members of the delegations of the Holy See and the State of Palestine,
We are pleased and honored to have officially signed the Comprehensive Agreement between the State of Palestine and the Holy See, following a number of years of intensive negotiations in a spirit of partnership. This agreement is a historic agreement. It would have not been possible without the support and personal dedication of President Abbas, and the blessing of His Holiness, Pope Francis, to our efforts in this regard.
This agreement builds on the special relations between the State of Palestine and the Holy See, and expands further on the Basic Agreement signed between the PLO and the Holy See in the year 2000.
The agreement is comprehensive. Its provisions span the shared vision of the two Parties for peace and justice in the region, the protection of fundamental freedoms, the status and protection of Holy Sites, and the means of enhancing and furthering the presence and activities of the Roman Catholic Church in the State of Palestine.
For the first time, the Agreement includes an official recognition by the Holy See of Palestine as a State, in recognition of the right of the Palestinian people to self-determination, freedom and dignity in an independent state of their own, free from the shackles of occupation. It also supports the vision for peace and justice in the region in accordance with international law and based on two states, living side by side in peace and security, on the basis of the 1967 borders.
The agreement reinforces our bond with new and unprecedented provisions related to the special status of Palestine as the birthplace of Christianity and as the cradle of monolithic religions. It embodies our shared values of freedom, dignity, tolerance, co-existence, and equality of all. This comes at a time when extremism, barbaric violence, and ignorance threaten the social fabric and cultural identity of the region and indeed of human heritage. At this backdrop, the State of Palestine reiterates its commitment to combat extremism, and to promote tolerance, freedom of consciousness and religion, and to equally safeguard the rights of all its citizens. These are the values and principles that reflect the beliefs and aspirations of the Palestinian people and its leadership, and they are the pillars upon which we continue to endeavor to establish our independent and democratic State.
This agreement consolidates and improves the current state of affairs, in which the Roman Catholic Church enjoys rights, privileges, immunities, and free access. It upholds the Church’s standing as an important contributor to the lives of many Palestinians.
This Agreement is the product of a number of years of detailed and exhaustive negotiations between both of our teams, in a spirit of friendship and partnership. I would like to take this opportunity to extend our thanks and appreciation to them and to all others who contributed to this effort, for their hard work and commitment. In particular to the members of the Palestinian team composed of Ambassador Rawan Sulaiman, Ambassador Issa Kassissieh, Ammar Hijazi and Azem Bishara, and to the team of the Holy See, in particular Msgr. Antoine Camilleri, Archbishop Giuseppe Lazzarotto, Archbishop Antonio Franco, Msgr. Alberto Ortega, and Fr. Emil Salayta.
On behalf of President Abbas and the Palestinian leadership, I wish to reiterate the commitment of the State of Palestine to implement this historic agreement, in both letter and spirit, and to further deepen our partnership.
Congratulations and thank you.
Diane Montagna is Rome correspondent for Aleteia’s English edition.