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Israel & Palestine

Israeli religious sites are of special interest to the Vatican. It delayed recognition of Israel for 45 years, but then seemed to have decided that there was no way around it and began pushing hard for concordats. After almost 20 years of unsuccessful negotiations with Israel on a key follow-up concordat, the Vatican turned to the Palestinians to give it what it wanted on the West Bank and Gaza. They were eager for diplomatic recognition, so the Vatican seized the moment, recognised the "State of Palestine" in 2012. Three years later the Vatican concluded a secret concordat and refused to let Israel see its text.

 Valuable religious real estate 

There is competition among the different Christian groups forced to share their shrines and also among the world religions which all have claims on the Holy Land. The Vatican, in what has been seen in Israel as a divide-and-conquer strategy, supports a two-state policy which would remove Jerusalem from Israeli jurisdiction.

Sainthood doublecross? 

Was Israel tricked into supporting sainthood for Hitler’s pope? An Israeli negotiator and a Catholic theologian both maintain that shortly after World War II the Vatican promised to recognise Israel if their diplomats and politicians would defend Pius XII against charges that he had turned his back on the Jews. (For more about Pius XII and the Jews, see Pope, Concordat and Holocaust.)


Agreements with Israel

 Fundamental Agreement between the Holy See and the State of Israel (signed 30 December 1993, in force since 10 March 1994)

♦ Legal Personality Agreement between the Holy See and the State of Israel (signed 10 November1997, but apparently never ratified by Israel [1])

♦ As of mid-2015 negotiations were still underway for a fiscal concordat with Israel to fulfil Article 10 § 2 of the Fundamental Agreement. “The text being studied does not touch on thorny issues such as territorial questions: the Vatican’s stance with regard to East Jerusalem and the occupied territories remains unchanged and the problems regarding ecclesiastical properties in that part of the Holy City and in the West Bank were deliberately set aside.” [2] However, the agreement would exempt Catholic institutions in West Jerusalem from taxes, and the King of Morocco has warned that this Vatican recognition would “give legitimacy to the Israeli occupation of Jerusalem and stir over 1 billion Muslims worldwide.” [3]

Agreements, first with the PLO and then the "State of Palestine"

♦ Basic Agreement between the Holy See and the Palestine Liberation Organisation (signed and came into force 15 February 2000)

♦ On 26 June 2015 the Vatican made a second concordat, a “juridical accord”/“global agreement”/ “comprehensive agreement” with “the State of Palestine” [4] with help from the Arabic-speaking Oriental Churches. According to the Palestinians, this concordat supports a two-state solution to the conflict between Palestine and Israel “on the basis of the 1967 borders”. [5] For its part, Vatican officials stressed that the Holy See had given official recognition to the State of Palestine since 2012. [6] According to the Vatican, this concerns the fiscal and legal status of Catholic facilities and personnel on the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. [7]

The agreement is mainly about freedom of religion and conscience, the Church's freedom of action, its staff and jurisdiction, legal status, places of worship, social and charitable activity, and use of communications media. [...] The document also . [8]

But if this is all, why won't the Vatican publish the text and why has it refused repeated requests by Israel to learn the details? The Israeli government is concerned that the treaty between the Vatican and the Palestinians could contradict their own concordat. [9]


1. “Palestinians: Vatican set to indirectly recognize annexation of East Jerusalem”, Haaretz, 2012-06-10.  

2. “Vatican and Israel edge closer to an agreement”, La Stampa, 2013-01-30.

3. “Moroccan king protests proposed Vatican-Israeli agreement on Jerusalem holy sites”, Catholic News Agency, 2013-13-06. 

4. “Joint Communique of the Bilateral Working Commission Between the Holy See and Palestine”, Zenit, 2013-01-31.

5. “Palestine warmly welcomes comprehensive agreement with the Holy See”, Palestine News Network, 2015-06-28.

6. “Vatican agrees first treaty with State of Palestine, solidifying relationship”, Reuters, 2015-05-13.

7. “Resumption Of Talks Between The Holy See And The PLO”, Vatican Information Service, 2010-12-09. 

“Pope describes Palestinian leader as ‘an angel of peace’”, Irish Times, 2015-05-16.

8. “First of its kind: Vatican, Palestine sign treaty on religious freedom”, Christian Today, 2015-06-29.

9. “Vatican refuses to give Israel details of accord signed with Palestinians“, Haaretz, 7 July 2015.



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