The Vatican has concluded its first treaty that formally recognises the State of Palestine, with an agreement on Catholic Church activities in areas controlled by the Palestinian Authority, according to the Holy See.
A joint statement released by the Vatican said on Wednesday said the text of the treaty had been concluded and would be officially signed by the respective authorities "in the near future".
The agreement "aims to enhance the life and activities of the Catholic Church and its recognition at the judicial level", said Monsignor Antoine Camilleri, the Vatican's deputy foreign minister who led its delegation in the talks.
Vatican officials stressed that although the agreement was significant, it certainly did not constitute the Holy See's first recognition of the State of Palestine.
"We have recognised the State of Palestine ever since it was given recognition by the United Nations and it is already listed as the State of Palestine in our official yearbook," Father Federico Lombardi, Vatican spokesperson, said.
On November 29, 2012, the UN General Assembly adopted a resolution recognising Palestine as an observer non-member state.
This was welcomed at the time by the Vatican, which has the same observer non-member status at the UN.
During a three-day visit to the Middle East a year ago, Pope Francis delighted his Palestinian hosts by referring to the "state of Palestine", giving support for their bid for full statehood recognition.
The Palestinian delegation was led by Ambassador Rawan Sulaiman, the assistant minister for foreign affairs.
In an interview with the Vatican's official newspaper L'Osservatore Romano , Camilleri said he hoped the agreement would indirectly help the Palestinian State in its relations with Israel.
"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 neighbours," he said. Hanan Ashrawi, PLO executive committee member, welcomed the Vatican's recognition of the state of Palestine.
In a statement, Ashrawi said: "The significance of this recognition 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."