Your Excellency Archbishop Gallagher,
Esteemed members of the delegations of the Holy See and the State of Palestine,
We are pleased and honored to have officially signed the Comprehensive Agreement between the State of Palestine and the Holy See, following a number of years of intensive negotiations in a spirit of partnership. This agreement is a historic agreement. It would have not been possible without the support and personal dedication of President Abbas, and the blessing of His Holiness, Pope Francis, to our efforts in this regard.
This agreement builds on the special relations between the State of Palestine and the Holy See, and expands further on the Basic Agreement signed between the PLO and the Holy See in the year 2000.
The agreement is comprehensive. Its provisions span the shared vision of the two Parties for peace and justice in the region, the protection of fundamental freedoms, the status and protection of Holy Sites, and the means of enhancing and furthering the presence and activities of the Roman Catholic Church in the State of Palestine.
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. It also supports the vision for peace and justice in the region in accordance with international law and based on two states, living side by side in peace and security, on the basis of the 1967 borders.
The agreement reinforces our bond with new and unprecedented provisions related to the special status of Palestine as the birthplace of Christianity and as the cradle of monolithic religions. It embodies our shared values of freedom, dignity, tolerance, co-existence, and equality of all. This comes at a time when extremism, barbaric violence, and ignorance threaten the social fabric and cultural identity of the region and indeed of human heritage. At this backdrop, the State of Palestine reiterates its commitment to combat extremism, and to promote tolerance, freedom of consciousness and religion, and to equally safeguard the rights of all its citizens. These are the values and principles that reflect the beliefs and aspirations of the Palestinian people and its leadership, and they are the pillars upon which we continue to endeavor to establish our independent and democratic State.
This agreement consolidates and improves the current state of affairs, in which the Roman Catholic Church enjoys rights, privileges, immunities, and free access. It upholds the Church’s standing as an important contributor to the lives of many Palestinians.
This Agreement is the product of a number of years of detailed and exhaustive negotiations between both of our teams, in a spirit of friendship and partnership. I would like to take this opportunity to extend our thanks and appreciation to them and to all others who contributed to this effort, for their hard work and commitment. In particular to the members of the Palestinian team composed of Ambassador Rawan Sulaiman, Ambassador Issa Kassissieh, Ammar Hijazi and Azem Bishara, and to the team of the Holy See, in particular Msgr. Antoine Camilleri, Archbishop Giuseppe Lazzarotto, Archbishop Antonio Franco, Msgr. Alberto Ortega, and Fr. Emil Salayta.
On behalf of President Abbas and the Palestinian leadership, I wish to reiterate the commitment of the State of Palestine to implement this historic agreement, in both letter and spirit, and to further deepen our partnership.
Congratulations and thank you.