If there's one thing you can say about Pope Francis, it's that he's not nervous about ruffling anyone's feathers. Having already brought exponentially more reformist language and moderation to his Papacy than his predecessor Pope Benedict XVI did, he's clearly willing to roll with what he thinks is right (even if, yes, he's sometimes very wrong). And he kept up that trailblazing posture on Wednesday — according to The New York Times, Pope Francis will recognize the Palestinian state in a new Vatican treaty, no doubt drawing plaudits from supporters of the cause, and causing some tension between the Catholic Church and the state of Israel.
As Vox's Zach Beauchamp pointed out in analyzing this news, it's not as though this is a huge attitude shift, but it's newsworthy nonetheless. The Vatican has treated Palestine as a state in the past, but this is the first such official recognition, and that matters.
As the Times details, the treaty is reportedly geared towards addressing ostensibly Catholic interests within Palestine, of which there are a number — there are more than a dozen Catholic parishes within their boundaries, and an often overlooked Christian population, estimated to be over 200,000 strong between Gaza and the West Bank by the CIA's World Factbook.
This also didn't come entirely out of left field. While the ostensibble point of this treaty isn't geopolitical, the Vatican made it clear last month that they had some gripes with how things were going in the region — a little hint, perhaps, that something like this was coming down the pike.
Speaking to Vatican Radio on April 23, Archbishop Bernardito Auza (who serves as the Permanent Observer of the Holy See to the United Nations) reaffirmed the Vatican's support for the much-discussed "two-state solution." And, of course, you can't have a two state solution without two states.
As was recognized on that occasion, Israel has genuine and legitimate concerns for its security; however, such security will come not in isolation from its neighbors, but in being a part of them through a negotiated peace with the Palestinians through the implementation of the ‘Two-State Solution’, which has the support of the Holy See and of the international community in general. ... The Holy See joins its voice once more with all people of peace to call for serious and concrete negotiations that will reinvigorate the peace process.
This isn't the first time there have been noticable signs of a sympathetic relationship between the Vatican and the Palestinians, either. In May of last year, Francis made an official Papal visit to the region, and he reportedly irritated Israel by making Palestine his first stop, leaving them second. He even visited a Palestinian refugee camp.
Needless to say, this news hasn't been cheered by Israel. In fact, in relatively short order a number of voices have joined the chorus to blast the decision — the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) has already issued a condemning press release, and according to NBC News, the Israel foreign ministry disparaged the recognition in a text message, casting it as a detriment to peace.
This move does not promote the peace process and distances the Palestinian leadership from returning to direct and bilateral negotiations. Israel will study the agreement and will consider its steps accordingly.
But all in all, it's not as though Israel should've been completely in the dark about this. Francis has always professed the importance of peace, one of the Catholic Church's fundamental political principles. And if one thing can't be denied about the Israel/Palestine peace process as it stands right now, it's that things seem intractible and immovable.
Francis addressed the dilemma back in 2014, holding a prayer summit between Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas and former Israeli president Shimon Peres. Whie the Vatican denied at the time that this was in any sense a political occasion, as detailed by the BBC, it foreshadowed Francis' interest in playing an engaged role.
Obviously, Israel believes that state recognition for Palestine undermines that process — at least, insofar as they'd like it to go — but they've faced waning support for that opinion around the world. Similar recognitions over the past few years have rankled Israel, like Guatemala in 2013, and Sweden in 2014.
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