The Vatican on Friday signed a new cooperation agreement with Palestinian officials that formally recognizes their state, triggering protests from Israel.
While the text of the document was not released, both sides said it regulated Catholic Church affairs in Palestinian territories, including land, tax and religious freedom issues. It is to come into effect following ratification by the two sides.
"This agreement is a historic agreement," Palestinian Foreign Minister Riad Al-Malki said at a ceremony on Vatican grounds.
"For the first time, the agreement includes an official recognition by the Holy See of Palestine as a state, in recognition of the right of the Palestinian people to self-determination, freedom and dignity in an independent state of their own, free from the shackles of occupation," Malki noted.
Meanwhile, after signing a historic first accord with Palestine, the Vatican came under fire from Israel and has been blamed for "ignoring the historic rights of the Jewish people in the Land of Israel and to the places holy to Judaism in Jerusalem".
"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 in a statement.
Nahshon said the Vatican-Palestinian accord contained "one sided texts" and added "Israel will study the agreement in detail, and its implications for future cooperation between Israel and the Vatican."
The Holy See - which represents the Vatican on the international scene - has until now governed its relations with Palestinians on the basis of a 2000 deal signed with the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO).
"In contrast with the earlier agreement, the present one is being signed by the Holy See and the State of Palestine," Monsignor Paul Gallagher, who acts as the Vatican's foreign minister, acknowledged during the same ceremony.
Confirming the Vatican's position, he said this reflected the progress on state-building made by the Palestinian Authority, and "above all" the 2012 decision by the UN General Assembly to accept Palestine as a non-member observer state.
"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," Gallagher said.