Pope Francis has almost certainly cemented his place in the pantheon of liberal icons in the wake of the Holy See’s decision to recognize in treaty what it refers to as the “State of Palestine.”
The Vatican has officially recognized the right of a sovereign and independent Palestine to exist since 2012 and has had formal diplomatic relations with the territories since 1994, but a new agreement that formally establish the legal status of the Catholic Church in the Palestinian territories.
This is perhaps why Western media outlets should not be trumpeting the Vatican’s supposed recognition of Palestine since this new treaty is really not all that groundbreaking. While this might accurately be seen as a diplomatic advance that protects the interests of Western churches in the Muslim world, it does not really do much to legitimize the Palestinian territories as a nation state.
A “very elaborate and detailed” section deals with “religious freedom and freedom of conscience,” [The Vatican’s Undersecretary for Relations with States Msgr. Antoine] Camilleri said. Other sections deal with property and tax questions, as well as the scope of Catholic media and charitable activities.
Msgr. Camilleri voiced hope other Muslim-majority countries would follow the Palestinian example of recognizing the Catholic Church and the religious freedom of minorities.
He said he also hoped the agreement would help, “if only in an indirect way,” to promote the recognition of Palestinian statehood and the realization of a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
If the Palestinian territories are to one day enjoy formal statehood, they have a long way to go from the self-inflicted setbacks incurred during last summer’s war in Gaza. The Western world has already acknowledged that the viability of a two-state solution in the short-term is unfeasible.
Last June, British Prime Minister David Cameron conceded that the “facts on the ground” are “beginning to make a two-state solution impossible.” He was merely echoing the sentiments expressed by Secretary of State John Kerry who told a congressional panel months earlier that, “in one to one-and-a-half to two years,” the prospects for carving a viable state out of the Palestinian territories will be “over.”
Indeed, the Gaza war demonstrated the extent to which the single most important factor for creating a sustainable state – a united government – simply doesn’t exist in the Palestinian territories. The governing faction in Gaza, Hamas, conducted a war against Israel utterly independent of the Fattah-led government in the West Bank. The fissures between the two distinct governments were readily apparent through the course of the war as Fattah spokespeople were rarely able to disguise their frustration with their counterparts in Gaza City.
Creating a single state out of two geographically noncontiguous set of territories with two radically divergent governments would only set the stage for civil conflict; one that would likely be prosecuted by the state of Israel, which would be literally caught in the middle of such a dangerous conflagration.
The Vatican’s “recognition” of a Palestinian state today is far less Earth-shattering than some would like to portray it. Even if it were not, all the international recognition in the world cannot will a state into being that lacks the fundamental elements of a sovereign entity.