Last Wednesday, Pope Francis, ever the revolutionary, shocked the world once again by leading the Vatican to formally recognize the state of Palestine.
Though the Vatican has informally recognized Palestine for awhile, referring to Palestine as a state in numerous public addresses, it had not yet officially recognized it as a country.
Last Wednesday, however, the Vatican signed its first treaty with the state of Palestine.
The Vatican explicitly acknowledged in the treaty, and in a public statement afterwards, that it believed that Palestine was a legitimate state. As a spokesman for Vatican stated, “Yes, it’s a recognition that the state exists.”
The move isn’t unprecedented, as the Vatican has maintained a policy of informal recognition since 2012, when the UN voted to elevate Palestine to an observer state.
The two-state solution has been the Church doctrine as the key to peace in the region, and both Pope Francis and his predecessor Pope Benedict have attempted to bring together the two sides.
Indeed, it is even debatable whether this is anything new at all, since Palestine has maintained an ambassador to the Holy See since 2012, and the two states have worked together many times before.
Nevertheless, the use of the words “the State of Palestine” in this treaty has electrified the conversation concerning the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
There are 135 countries around the world that currently recognize Palestine as a nation, and this, along with Palestine’s recent UN upgrade to observer state status, is being used by Palestine as political and diplomatic leverage to try and pressure Israel into negotiations.
The recent treaty adds immense weight to the Palestinian push, even more than a recent wave of European symbolic gestures of recognition.
Unsurprisingly, the announcement has elicited an outpouring of reactions from both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, including condemnations and exhortations. Israel’s Foreign Ministry has expressed disappointment in the Pope, claiming that the recognition would not advance the peace process.
This sentiment was echoed from many pro-Israeli sources. “Formal Vatican recognition of Palestine, a state that, in reality, does not yet exist, is a regrettable move, counterproductive to all who seek true peace between Israel and the Palestinians,” said David Harris, executive director of the American Jewish Committee.
Notably absent from the outcry is an official US position. President Obama has yet to make a statement acknowledging the announcement, a departure from the usual US reaction to support Israel in the face of criticism.
This is in line with President Obama’s statement that the US would have to “reassess” its options on US-Israel relations and diplomacy in the area following the re-election of Benjamin Netanyahu.
During his election campaign, Netanyahu vowed to ensure there would be no Palestinian state, and therefore no two-state solution, during his election campaign, a statement that outraged many.
After this incendiary remark, it is little wonder that Palestine was able to gain more support internationally.
Lately, a number of bills aimed at recognizing Palestine as a state have appeared in various European parliaments, and international pressure has been increasing.
Rightfully so, since the new, more conservative Israeli government has been moving further and further from a potential two-state solution.
Although Netanyahu recanted his promise, the Israeli government recently released a set of guidelines which promised to “advance the peace process,” but failed to ever mention a Palestinian state.
Although it is unlikely that Francis’ statement will have any direct effect on the situation, Francis is at the head of more than a billion Catholics, and is revered even outside of religious circles for his progressive beliefs.
He is unafraid to involve himself in international politics, and has consistently been a voice of peace in international conflicts, a position which suits him well.