Vatican Recognition of ‘State of Palestine’ Proves No Surprise


ROME, Italy– The Vatican’s recognition of the state of Palestine in a new treaty finalized Wednesday, while sparking strong reactions, proved no surprise to Vatican watchers, since it merely formalizes a position that the Holy See has had for years.

As veteran Vatican journalist John Allen has pointed out, the “news” of the Vatican recognizing the Palestinian state is actually two years old. In a 2013 Vatican news release announcing negotiations with the Palestinians towards the treaty that made Wednesday’s papers, it stated that the talks would be conducted with “representatives of the Foreign Ministry of the State of Palestine.”

One finds the phrase “State of Palestine” in official Vatican documents since November 2012, and, on Wednesday, Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi reiterated that the Vatican has “recognized the State of Palestine ever since it was given recognition by the United Nations,” referring to a UN vote in 2012 where a majority of member states agreed to recognize Palestine as a non-member state.

Ever since then, the Holy See has listed Palestine as a state in its official yearbook, and Pope Francis also referred to the Palestinian state during his 2014 visit to the West Bank.

Yet even prior to that, the Vatican consistently supported Palestinian statehood.

In December 1988, Pope John Paul II received Yasser Arafat, chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organization, and asserted that Israelis and Palestinians had “an identical fundamental right to their own homelands.” This was one of twelve meetings between the two men.

In 1994, the Vatican—also under Pope John Paul II—entered into official relations with the Palestine Liberation Organization and in 2000, signed an agreement that called for, among other things, “a peaceful solution of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, which would realize the inalienable national legitimate rights and aspirations of the Palestinian People,” as well as “freedom of access” to the Holy Places.

So as disconcerting as the Vatican recognition of the state of Palestine might be to some, the one thing it isn’t is news.

Follow Thomas D. Williams on Twitter @tdwilliamsrome