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Vatican praises new UN status for Palestine, urges full sovereignty
Catholic News Service photo
Israeli Ambassador to the United Nations Ron Prosor addresses the U.N. General Assembly in New York Nov. 29. The assembly approved a resolution to grant Palestine observer status, implicitly recognizing a Palestinian state.
Catholic News Service photo
Israeli Ambassador to the United Nations Ron Prosor addresses the U.N. General Assembly in New York Nov. 29. The assembly approved a resolution to grant Palestine observer status, implicitly recognizing a Palestinian state.
In West Bank, Palestinians celebrate UN vote
JERUSALEM — In the West Bank, church bells rang at the midnight announcement that the U.N. General Assembly had voted to grant Palestinians observer status.

Young and old Catholic Palestinians joined others in Ramallah, where the announcement was celebrated into the wee hours of the morning.

"We were very happy when this announcement was made," said Father Firas Aridah, whose Jifna village parish is 5 miles from Ramallah. "We saw that our dignity may be hurt, but it will be healed. We are not abandoned. People are with us. We have rights just like everyone else, and we can live in calm and peace."

At last, he told Catholic News Service Nov. 30, Palestinians were seeing the light at the end of the tunnel.

Father Aridah said Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas' U.N. victory, just weeks after clashes between Israel and Hamas in the Gaza Strip, was very important for the Palestinian leader, demonstrating that he could unite his people without resorting to violence.

"Gaza was celebrating with us. Everyone can now look to President Abbas as the one who will unify Gaza and the West Bank, and they know that he did not use guns (to achieve the vote), he used diplomacy and peaceful demonstrations," said Father Aridah.

In a Nov. 30 statement, the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem, which includes churches in Israel and the Palestinian territories, described the U.N. vote as "an incentive for peace" that marked a "significant shift to meet the legitimate aspirations of the Palestinians." The patriarchate congratulated Abbas, calling him a "moderate man and a man of peace."

Bernard Sabella, a Catholic member of the Palestinian Parliament and retired professor of sociology at Bethlehem University, said the U.N. vote could herald "some more serious thinking on the part of Israel" regarding Palestinian-Israeli negotiations.

"It is not enough for us Palestinians to celebrate and be happy about it, there are also the Israelis (to consider)," he said.

Though the vote left him feeling "a little optimistic," he said it remained to be seen what would happen following the Israeli elections in January. Observers predict the election of a right-wing government.

Sabella said although the strong vote served to boost Abbas' standing among Palestinians -- who had lost some respect for him because of the stagnation in the negotiations with Israel -- its overall ramifications remained uncertain.

"We have to wait and see if President Abbas will go to Gaza when he returns from New York and really put the reunification effort into effect. That is the real hope and expectation," he said.

Abbas leads Fatah, which controls the West Bank. Rival Hamas took over the Gaza Strip in 2007 following its Palestinian legislative election victory in 2006. Hamas initially formed a national unity government with Fatah. Following a week of internal fighting in which it is estimated that at least 118 people were killed and more than 550 were wounded, Hamas took control of Gaza, expelling Fatah officials. The rift has plagued the Palestinians ever since.

Sabella praised Abbas for mentioning Gaza specifically in his speech at the U.N., in effect sending a message to Gazans and others that he was there as their representative to also speak about their pain.

The U.N. vote was also significant in that it indicates an international interest in supporting a "pragmatic Palestinian leadership," Sabella said. "The international community is saying something that everyone is seeing, which is (the need for) a two-state solution, and Israel is refusing to see that."

Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — The Vatican praised a United Nations vote making Palestine a non-member observer state but called for full recognition of Palestinian sovereignty as necessary for peace in the region.

One hundred thirty-eight member states voted Nov. 29 to boost Palestine's status from "entity" to "non-member state" — the same status held by the Holy See -- in an implicit recognition of Palestinian sovereignty. Israel, the United States and Canada were among the nine states that voted against the motion. Forty-one countries abstained.

The vote reflects the "sentiment of the majority of the international community" in favor of a "more significant presence to Palestinians within the United Nations," the Vatican said in a written statement Nov. 29.

But Palestine's enhanced status at the U.N. "does not constitute, per se, a sufficient solution to the existing problems in the region," the Vatican said. Such a solution would require "effective commitment to building peace and stability, in justice and in the respect for legitimate aspirations, both of the Israelis and of the Palestinians," it said.

Israeli and Palestinian leaders need to restart peace "negotiations in good faith and to avoid actions, or the placing of conditions, which would contradict the declarations of good will and the sincere search for solutions which could become secure foundations for a lasting peace," it said.

In the West Bank, church bells rang out as the announcement of the U.N. decision was made.

In its statement, the Vatican noted its 2000 agreement with the Palestinian Authority supporting "the recognition of an internationally guaranteed special statute for the city of Jerusalem."

The agreement aims to safeguard "the freedom of religion and of conscience, the identity and sacred character of Jerusalem as a holy city, (and) respect for and freedom of access to its holy places," the Vatican said.

It said the international community, too, needs to pitch in and encourage "the adoption of suitable initiatives which may help to achieve a lasting peace that respects the rights of Israelis and of Palestinians. Peace needs courageous decisions."

Palestine's enhanced status gives it the right to speak at U.N. meetings and sponsor and sign resolutions, but not to vote on U.N. resolutions. Nonmember observers may petition to join the body as full members.

Meanwhile, the Israeli Embassy to the Vatican said the U.N. motion was merely "symbolic" and that the general assembly does not have the power to confer statehood.

The Nov. 29 resolution "does not, and cannot, establish a Palestinian state or even grant it recognition," the embassy said in a Nov. 30 statement. At present, 131 of the 193 U.N. member states have recognized the state of Palestine.

"Israel is prepared to live in peace with a Palestinian state. However, for peace to endure, Israel's security must be guaranteed: The Palestinians must recognize the Jewish state and they must be prepared to end the conflict with Israel," the embassy said.

It said Israel was open to direct dialogue with Palestinians, saying peace can only come from direct agreements between the two parties and that "turning to the U.N. distanced the chances for peace."

The Vatican said in its statement that the currently unresolved question of Palestinian statehood was already addressed in U.N. Resolution 181, which was passed on Nov. 29, 1947 -- exactly 65 years to the day of the Palestinian observer status vote.

The United Nations' Partition Plan for Palestine is the "juridical basis for the existence of two states, one of which has not been constituted in the successive 65 years, while the other (Israel) has already seen the light," the Vatican said.

It reiterated Pope Benedict's call for the two-state solution to "become a reality, not remain a dream."

Quoting the pope's 2009 speech in Tel Aviv, Israel, the Vatican said that peace can result only from a situation of justice for all parties: the recognition of Israel's right to exist "and to enjoy peace and security within internationally agreed borders," as well as the Palestinians' right "to a sovereign independent homeland, to live with dignity and to travel freely."

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