The Holy See has maintained relations with Palestine since before 1948. On 11 February 1948, the Holy See created the office of Apostolic Delegate to Jerusalem and Palestine, with jurisdiction over Palestine, Transjordania (now Jordan), and Cyprus. In Vatican practice, an Apostolic Delegate is a person who is a Vatican representative in a country with which the Holy See has no diplomatic ties, but who is not accredited to the government of the country. The Delegate also acts as a liaison with the Catholic Church in that country.
Holy See-Palestinian relations are governed at present by the agreement concluded between the two parties in 2000. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict and Israeli control of most of the West Bank territory are the major considerations in these relations.
Before the creation of the office of Apostolic Delegate, the Custodian of the Holy Land, which has had a presence in the Holy Land since after the Crusader period, and by the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, which was re-instituted in 1847, represented the interests of the Vatican in the region.
In 1987, Michel Sabbah became the first native Palestinian to be appointed Latin Patriarch. His successor in 2008, and the present Patriarch, is Fouad Twal from Jordan. A majority of clerics are of Palestinian or Jordanian origin.
When the 1948 Arab-Israeli War broke out, the Pope maintained the official attitude of impartiality in the conflict.
On 24 October 1948, at a time when the war was still raging, Pope Pius XII issued an encyclical, called In multiplicibus curis, which called for the protection of the Holy Places, and called for peace and mutual respect by the combatants. Though continuing to maintain an attitude of impartiality, the Pope also looked for possibilities for justice and peace in Palestine.
Pope John XXIII wrote the encyclical Pacem in terris on peace in the world, and this encyclical has sometimes been re-read and re-interpreted by Christians in the context of politics in the Holy Land.
Pope Paul VI went on pilgrimage to the Holy Land in January 1964. His vivid and personal experiences there prompted him to call for new, important and creative initiatives on behalf of Palestinians and the Church in Palestine. On 25 March 1974, he wrote the encyclical Nobis in animo on the social problems existing in the Holy Land.
John Paul II met with Yasser Arafat in 1987 and generally supported greater rights for Palestinians. He was an advocate of the 1990s peace negotiations. On February 15, 2000, the Holy See concluded a basic agreement with the Palestinian Authority.
Pope Benedict made a 2009 trip to Jordan and Palestine, although the trip had been put in doubt because of persistent infighting in the Israeli-occupied Gaza. Pope Benedict paid great attention to the sufferings of people in the Holy Land, and especially the Palestinian people.
On 24 October 2010, the final statement by the Synod of Bishops chaired by Benedict XVI stated that "the necessary legal steps to put an end to the occupation of the different Arab territories", going on to say "Recourse to theological and biblical positions which use the word of God to wrongly justify injustices is not acceptable". It was well received by Palestinian diplomats, chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat stating, "we join the synod in their call to the international community to uphold the universal values of freedom, dignity and justice." Israel's Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon said that "The synod was hijacked by an anti-Israel majority".
On December 17, 2012, the pope in a meeting with Palestinian president Abbas made an official endorsement of the UN General Assembly resolution which recognized Palestine as a non-member observer state.
Pope Francis expressed sympathy to the Palestinian cause already during his visit to the Palestinian Authority in May 2014. On May 13, 2015, the Vatican announced the intention to sign its first treaty with the State of Palestine after formally recognizing it as a state in February 2013. The Comprehensive Agreement between the Holy See and the State of Palestine was signed on June 26, 2015. Following recognition of the State of Palestine, Pope Francis proceeded to establish diplomatic relations with that state, and on January 14, 2017 a Palestinian embassy to the Vatican was officially opened.
During the afternoon of May 26, 2014 a small box of crosses was set ablaze in the Dormition Abbey in Jerusalem. Witnesses believe this to have been an arson attempt. At the same time Pope Francis was conducting a ceremony in the building next door in the upper room of King David's Tomb.