An accord between the Vatican and the Palestinians first signed in June took effect Saturday, nearly three years after the Vatican’s recognition of the Palestinian territories as a sovereign area and 15 years after the Holy See first recognized the Palestine Liberation Organization as the representative of the Palestinian people. Israel was quick to criticize the agreement as counterproductive to the peace process in the Middle East, but the Vatican said it hopes to quell fighting in the region and use the accord as a model for other Arab and Muslim-majority countries.

"The agreement ... regards essential aspects of the life and activity of the church in Palestine while at the same time reaffirming the support for a negotiated and peaceful solution to the conflict in the region,” a statement from the Vatican read.

Provisions in the agreement protect the rights of Christians, who have faced increased persecution in the Middle East. The Vatican has praised the agreement as an example of how other Arab and Muslim states should engage in relations with their Christian populations.

At the agreement’s signing in June, Vatican Foreign Minister Archbishop Paul Gallagher said the accord could encourage talks between Palestinians and Israelis and a possible two-state solution, Reuters reported. About 100,000 Catholics are thought to live in Israel and Palestinian-controlled territories.

In 2012, the U.N. General Assembly recognized Palestine as a nonmember observer state – the same status the Vatican has. Since then, the Vatican has de facto recognized the area as a state, and Pope Francis has referred to the Palestinian territories as the “State of Palestine.”

Israel opposes international accords with the Palestinian Authority, Al Jazeera reported. Foreign Ministry spokesman Emmanuel Nahshon said in June the accord ignores the rights of Jews in Israel. Diplomatic relations between the Vatican and Israel have existed since 1993, but no accord has been reached pertaining to the Catholic Church’s rights in Israel.