Pope Francis greets Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas as Israeli President Shimon Peres looks on during an invocation for peace in the Vatican Gardens June 8, 2014. CNS photo/Paul Haring

Israel downplays media flurry over Vatican agreement with Palestine

  • May 15, 2015

JERUSALEM - Israel is downplaying the recent media flurry over reports the Vatican and Palestinian representatives have finalized the text of a formal agreement recognizing freedom of religion in the "State of Palestine" and outlining the rights and obligations of the Catholic Church, its agencies and its personnel in the territory.

On May 14, the day after the announcement at the Vatican, the news did not make the front page of morning papers. No official statement had been released from the Israeli Foreign Ministry, although officials told journalists on the condition they not be named that Israel was "disappointed" by the terminology used.

One official told Haartez newspaper: "This move does not advance the peace process and further distances the Palestinian leadership from returning to direct and bilateral negotiations. Israel will examine the agreement and weigh its actions accordingly."

The conclusion of the agreement and attention to the wording "State of Palestine," which the Vatican has been using since at least January 2013 without fanfare, came just five days before the canonization of two Palestinian nuns.

Hanan Ashrawi, a member of the executive committee of the Palestine Liberation Organization, said the agreement was "a step toward the recognition of the State of Palestine" and added that Palestinians viewed it as "a genuine contribution to peace and justice."

Rabbi David Rosen, international director of interreligious affairs for the American Jewish Committee, told the New York Times Israel's relationship with the Vatican is "far too strong for it to be hurt by a designation or a terminology."
"(Pope) Francis deeply cares about the people of this land, and he would very much like to see a peaceful reconciliation, but I don't see he's made any changes in terms of Vatican policy," the rabbi said.

However, AJC Executive Director David Harris said the move was "counterproductive to all who seek true peace between Israel and the Palestinians."

In a statement, he said "peaceful co-existence ... is best served, we believe, by encouraging a resumption of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, rather than unilateral gestures outside the framework of the negotiating table."

Rabbi Michael Lerner, editor of the quarterly Tikkun magazine, congratulated the Vatican and said he was glad Pope Francis took seriously "the biblical injunction to pursue justice and to protect our global environment. Now he has entered a highly contested arena with the courage he has shown on other issues."

"We at Tikkun want Israel to be strong and secure and know that the best way to provide for Israel's security is to achieve a lasting peace with Palestinians based on the creation of a politically and economically viable Palestinian state. We hope that the Vatican's action will spur countries around the world to take similar actions to recognize the Palestinian state and provide it with the financial resources it needs to build its internal society," Lerner said.

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