Pope Francis at the separation barrier in Bethlehem.

Pope Francis at the separation barrier in Bethlehem.

The Israeli foreign ministry has said it is “disappointed” that the Vatican is finalising a joint accord with the State of Palestine ahead of a visit by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

A spokesman for the ministry said: “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.”

The Vatican said this week that the “bilateral commission of the Holy See and the State of Palestine will be submitted to the respective authorities for approval ahead of setting a debate in the near future for the signing.”

It is the first time that the Roman Catholic Church has signed a treaty with the State of Palestine, which the Vatican has recognised the state since February 2013, after the UN General Assembly voted overwhelmingly to recognise it in November 2012.

In the United States, where Pope Francis has been invited to address Congress later this year, pro-Israel lawmakers warned the pontiff to stay out of politics.

“I’m surprised that the pope would recognize Palestine when they’re still haters who want to eliminate Israel off the map and don’t recognize Israel,” said Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Texas), a member of the Israel Allies Caucus.