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PLO: Vatican accord with Palestine a contribution to justice

May 14, 2015 9:30 A.M. (Updated: May 14, 2015 4:47 P.M.)
Pope Francis and Mahmoud Abbas at the Vatican, Oct. 17, 2013. (AFP/Maurizio Brambatti, File)
BETHLEHEM (Ma'an) -- The PLO praised the Vatican's announcement Wednesday thatit was preparing to sign its first accord with Palestine, viewing the upcomingsigning of the agreement as a "genuine contribution to peace and justice."

"The significance of this decision 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,"PLO Executive Commitee member Dr. Hanan Ashrawi said in a statement.

Theagreementis in its final stages and will be submitted to authorities for approval, before being debated for official signing, the Vatican told AFP Wednesday.

While it will be the first time the Roman Catholic Church signs a treaty with the State of Palestine, the Vatican has recognized the state since February 2013.

"The Holy See has identified the State of Palestine as such since the vote" by the UN general assembly to recognize it in November 2012, Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi told AFP.

"In its annual directory the Palestinian representative is referred to as the representative of the State of Palestine," he said.

The Vatican's announcement comes shortly after news came that Pope Francis will be canonizing two 19th century Palestinian nuns later this week.

PLO's Ashrawi sees the upcoming canonization asgiving the Vatican decision significant added meaning, pointing tothe long-standing relationship between the Vatican and the Palestinians.

"It is an affirmation of Palestinian identity, culture and narrative in Palestine as the Holy Land," Ashrawi added.

Israel immediately reacted with displeasure to the Vatican's news.

"Israel heard with disappointment the decision of the Holy See to agree a final formulation of an agreement with the Palestinians including the use of the term 'Palestinian State'," an Israeli foreign ministry official said in an unsigned statement.

"Such a development does not further the peace process and distances the Palestinian leadership from returning to direct bilateral negotiations. Israel will study the agreement and consider its next step," the official said.

The agreement, 15 years in the making, may be signed this weekend during a visit by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to the Vatican for the canonization of the two new Palestinian saints.

It expresses the Vatican's "hope for a solution to the Palestinian question and the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians according to the Two-State Solution," said Antoine Camilleri, the Holy See's deputy foreign minister.

In an interview with the Vatican's Osservatore Romano newspaper, Camilleri said he hoped "the accord could, even in an indirect way, help the Palestinians in the establishment and recognition of an independent, sovereign and democratic State of Palestine."

The Vatican's position was seen by the PLO as a "de facto" recognition.

"This includes the recognition of 1967 borders and thus Palestinian East Jerusalem, a courageous stance from the Vatican," said a Palestinian official on condition of anonymity.

The Palestinian Authority considers the Vatican one of 136 countries to have recognized Palestine as a state, although the number is disputed and several recognitions by what are now European Union member states date back to the Soviet era.

AFP contributed to this report.

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