Palestinians welcome Pope’s Recognition of their State

By Juan Cole

The Arabic press widely and favorably reported the news that the Vatican has recognized Palestine as a state in a new treaty with it, despite a strong protest from Israel. The recognition was of Palestine within 1967 borders, with Jerusalem as its capital. It came as part of a treaty between the Vatican and Palestine regarding the place and activities of the Catholic Church in Palestine. The Vatican maintains that since the UN General Assembly gave Palestine non-member observer state status in 2012, it has regarded Palestine as a state. This treaty is, however, the first formal document enshrining that recognition.

Dr. Hanan Ashrawi of the executive committee of the Palestine Liberation Organization welcomed the decision (she is herself a Palestinian Christian). She said, “The significance of this recognition goes beyond the political and legal into the symbolic and moral domains and sends a message to all people of conscience that the Palestinian people deserve the right to self-determination, formal recognition, freedom and statehood.”

About 8% of the roughly 2.5 million Palestinians living under Israeli military occupation in the Palestinian West Bank are Christians. Most are Eastern Orthodox, but a minority are Catholics. Christian Palestinians are even more numerous in the diaspora caused by the Israeli ethnic cleansing campaign of 1948, which expelled 750,000 or so Palestinians from their homes and made them homeless refugees abroad (the total Palestinian population has by now grown to some 11 million).

Egypt’s al-Yawm al-Sabi` reported that a leader of Fateh (a prominent constituent party of the PLO), Dr. Jihad al-Harazin, said that the recognition was a victory for Palestinian diplomacy and a form of spiritual support to the Palestinian cause, given the importance of the Vatican to the West. He pointed out that the step comes not long after recognition by Sweden, which joined the Czech Republic, Poland, Bulgaria, Romania, Malta and Cyprus in Europe. Likewise, a number of European parliaments have voted non-binding resolutions in favor of recognizing Palestine during the past year.

The Vatican is also in the process of beatifying two Palestinian saints.

Given that some Catholic countries, such as Ireland and Spain, are already inclining toward a recognition of Palestine, this blessing of such a move by the Vatican may help accelerate that political momentum.

Related video:

Reuters: “Vatican agrees to first treaty with State of Palestine”

8 Responses

  1. I believe Vatican can do more. Zionists (both Christian and Jewish brands) have used Bible to justify creation of Israel. If Vatican can clarify the doctrine in this case, as it did with antisemitic passages in Bible, it would go a long way in repairing damage done to Palestinians. I am not an expert in religous issues and thus would like to be educated by anyone including Professor Cole who knows more about this subject. Thanks.

    • The foundation of the Catholic Church is the position that the Bible is not the ultimate authority on God’s will, the clergy is. This was the form that the dispute between Martin Luther and the Church took. Popes have found the theory of evolution acceptable in the past, and in general were not biblical literalists. That’s a Protestant thing which began to be used to justify the establishment of a Jewish state in the 20th century. The belief that the Book of Revelation is about to come true is also Protestant, and it has joined with these beliefs about the establishment of Israel.

      So nothing that a Pope says will sway any of the people using the Bible to slaughter Palestinians.

    • Recognising Palestine is a great first step.

      You are right though the Catholic church could do a lot to interpret the meaning of the Old Testament in terms of modern politics. Ironically most of these Palestinians Christians and Muslims have far more Hebrew blood in them than the Ashkenazi interlopers like B. Netanyahu (not to even mention Moldavian-born A. Lieberman) trying to run them out of town.

      Hopefully Pope Francis has a good life insurance policy: he’s just painted a target on himself. To be a good and just man has never been an easy role.

  2. I used to think that a small Palestinian State in the West Bank and Gaza would eventually happen and that it would be better than nothing; even if there would be no room for the Palestinian diaspora to come home it would at least confirm their identity. But successive Israeli governments taking more and more land and resources in the Occupied Territories have worked to make such a State impossible and there seems little point in recognising a Palestinian State that has no prospect of existing. Some Palestinians call for the Palestinian Authority to dissolve itself and hand back the full responsibility of administration of all of the Palestinian lands to the Israeli military authorities. They say that this would establish in the eyes of the world what the occupying power actually is and end its legitimacy as a liberal democracy in the eyes of the world. To regain legitimacy it would have to establish on the combined territory a single Jewish and Palestinian State with equal citizenship. The name might change or remain the same but democracy and human rights would be established. It might then, for the first time, become the first liberal democracy in the Middle East outside Turkey.

  3. Jean-Baptiste Gourion, a Jewish convert to Roman Catholicism, was appointed as the Bishop of Jerusalem in 2004. He was the first Jewish bishop in Jerusalem since the 2nd Century. His prospective appointment had been opposed by longtime Latin Patriarch Michel Sabbagh, a Palestinian Arab. Cardinal Jean-Marie Lustiger, a Dutch Holocaust survivor, who himself also converted from Judaism lauded the appointment of Gourion by the Vatican.

    Gourion claimed to be both Jewish and Roman Catholic simultaneously after his conversion in his early 20s over his parents’ objections. He was an Israeli of Algerian ancestry.

    Bishop Gourion served until his death in 2005. The State of Israel sent a minor official in the Interior Ministry to attend the funeral – which prompted criticism by Vatican officials.

  4. The predictable response from Israel ….”The Pope should stay out of politics.” Apartheid, starving citizens, denying medicine and electricity all the while stealing property from the rightful owners is not classified as politics. Good for the Pope!

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