Pope Francis has called Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas “an angel of peace” after the Vatican said it would formally recognise Palestinian statehood in a treaty.
Israel hit out at the move, which analysts said was motivated by concerns to protect Catholic Church property and influence in the Palestinian territories.
The treaty, which allows the Vatican to oversee aspects of Roman Catholic life in the areas President Abbas controls, also states that the Holy See still favours a two-state solution to the conflict with Israel.
“We are disappointed by the use of the term ‘State of Palestine,’ it does nothing to advance the cause of peace,” said an Israeli official. In fact it further distances the Palestinians from returning to negotiations.”
It comes after Abbas, who came to see the canonisation of two 19th century Palestinian nuns, was awarded a medallion by the Argentinian pontiff, who said: “It is appropriate because you are an angel of peace.”
The pending treaty between the Vatican and the ‘State of Palestine’ deals with legal and tax issues related to the Church’s activities in the territories.
“The Holy See recognised Palestine a long time ago,” said a Palestine Liberation Organisation spokeswoman. “What is new is that we are about to sign an agreement between them and the State of Palestine.”
However, Israeli officials are concerned that it adds to momentum to recognise full Palestinian statehood, after Abbas won recognition as a non-member observer state in 2012 and following the breakdown in talks last year.
Some 138 countries recognise Palestine as a state, and the parliaments of the UK and France last year were among European legislatures that held symbolic votes calling on their leaders to follow suit.