Agence France-Presse

The Vatican is now the 136th country to formally recognize Palestine

Palestinian protesting in solidarity with the people of the Gaza Strip wave Palestinian flags in front of St. Peter's basilica during the weekly papal Angelus prayer in Vatican City on August 3, 2014. 

Credit:

ALBERTO PIZZOLI

The Vatican has become the 136th country to formally recognize Palestinian statehood.

Which is a big deal. Sort of. 

A statement posted on the Vatican's news website on Wednesday said the "Holy See and the State of Palestine" had finalized the wording of an agreement that "deals with essential aspects of the life and activity of the Catholic Church in Palestine."

The Associated Press points out that the accord "is the first legal document negotiated between the Holy See and the Palestinian state and constitutes an official recognition." 

That's important. But as we saw in 2012 when the United Nations formally recognized Palestinian statehood, not much is necessarily going to change in the troubled region. 

As Vox explains, the move is largely symbolic and doesn't put Palestinians any closer to the goal of having their own state. At least not immediately. 

"Recognizing 'the state of Palestine' is mostly a symbolic act: it doesn't in any way make the Palestinian Authority into an independent government. However, Vatican recognition would signal to Israel that the Holy See is unhappy with the continued Israeli occupation of territory it sees as Palestinian, and that it sees Palestinian independence as necessary in any peace deal."

It's also not the first time that the Vatican has referred to the State of Palestine: Pope Francis did it during a visit to the Holy Land last year, and the Vatican's latest yearbook makes a reference to the State of Palestine as well. 

Israel, predictably, expressed disappointment at the Vatican's formal recognition of Palestine. 

"This move does not promote the peace process and distances the Palestinian leadership from returning to direct and bilateral negotiations," the Israeli foreign ministry told the New York Times.

"Israel will study the agreement and will consider its steps accordingly."

Official support for Palestinian statehood has gathered pace in recent years and now most countries on the planet — 70 percent of United Nations member states — agree that Palestinians deserve their own independent state. Several major world powers, however, including the United States, Australia, Japan and Canada, have held back from formally recognizing Palestinian statehood.

Despite international support, an end to occupation seems further away than ever, given this summer's war in Gaza, the expansion of Israeli settlements in Palestinian territories, and the election victory of Benjamin Netanyahu's right-wing Likud party. Still, the Vatican remains hopeful that its treaty with the Palestinians could make a difference.

"It would be positive if the accord could in some way help with the establishment and recognition of an independent, sovereign and democratic State of Palestine which lives in peace and security with Israel and its neighbors," the Vatican's deputy foreign minister, Monsignor Antoine Camilleri, told L'Osservatore Romano, which is the Vatican's official newspaper. 

According to Quartz, 136 states are on board with the Palestinians. Here are just a five things you should know about them. 

 

1. Sweden became the first European Union member in Western Europe to recognize a Palestinian state in October 2014, sparking a diplomatic spat with Israel.

 

 

2. More than 50 countries in Africa support Palestinian statehood.

 

 

3. Fifteen Latin American countries stand with the Palestinians in their demand for statehood.

 

 

4. Russia, not exactly known for respecting the sovereign rights of other countries, is on the side of the Palestinians.

 

 

5. Even China, where the threat of breakaway states is a politically sensitive issue, supports Palestinian statehood. 

 

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Tagged: Israel and Palestine.