The Vatican has come under fire from Israel after signing a historic first accord with Palestine that called for "courageous decisions" to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
The historic accord signed on Friday covers the activities of the Church in the parts of the Holy Land under Palestinian control, is the first agreement since the Vatican recognised Palestine as a state in February 2013 and drew immediate response from Israel.
"This hasty step damages the prospects for advancing a peace agreement, and harms the international effort to convince the Palestinian Authority to return to direct negotiations with Israel," Israeli foreign ministry spokesman Emmanuel Nahshon said.
The product of 15 years of discussions, the agreement between Palestine and the Vatican was finalised in principle last month despite Israel's opposition to both the symbolism of Palestine signing international accords and the specific content of the agreement.
Palestinian Foreign Minister Riad Al-Malki said at Friday's signing ceremony that it would "not have been possible without the blessing of his Holiness Pope Francis for our efforts to reach it".
The minister said the "historic" accord enshrined Palestine's special status as the birthplace of Christianity and the cradle of the monotheistic religions (Christianity, Islam, Judaism).
Paul Gallagher, the British archbishop who is the Vatican's de facto foreign minister, signed the accord on behalf of the Holy See in the presence of guests including Vera Baboun, the mayor of Bethlehem, the Palestinian town considered to be the birthplace of Jesus.
Ending the conflict
Gallagher said the accord's provisions to ensure the rights of Christians should serve as a model for other Arab and Muslim states in their relations with Christian minorities facing increasing persecution in the Middle East.
He said it was "indicative of the progress made by the Palestinian Authority in recent years, and above all of the level of international support (for recognition)".
"In this context, it is my hope that the present agreement may in some way be a stimulus to bringing a definitive end to the long-standing Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which continues to cause suffering for both Parties.
"I also hope that the much desired two-State solution may become a reality as soon as possible. The peace process can move forward only if it is directly negotiated between the parties, with the support of the international community," Gallagher said.
"This certainly requires courageous decisions, but it will also offer a major contribution to peace and stability in the region."
|The Vatican's recognition of the state of Palestine followed a November 2012 vote in favour of recognition by the UN General Assembly [EPA]
The Palestinian Authority considers the Vatican one of 136 states to have recognised Palestine's sovereign status.
The Vatican has had diplomatic relations with Israel since 1993 but has yet to conclude an accord on the Church's rights in the Jewish state which has been under discussion since 1999, with issues related to the status of Jerusalem proving hard to overcome.
Nahshon said the Vatican-Palestinian accord contained "one sided texts" which "ignore the historic rights of the Jewish people in the Land of Israel and to the places holy to Judaism in Jerusalem".
He added: "Israel will study the agreement in detail, and its implications for future cooperation between Israel and the Vatican."