The Vatican denied on Friday Israeli reports that Pope Francis has canceled his visit to Israel, scheduled for May, due to Foreign Ministry workers’ ongoing strike.
“The strike may create difficulties, but for now there is nothing further as far as we’re concerned,” said Father Federico Lombardi, director of the Holy See Press Office.
The pontiff’s May 24-26 trip to Amman, Bethlehem and Jerusalem will mark the 50th anniversary of Pope Paul VI’s trip to Israel, the first visit by a pope to the country. Pope John Paul II visited Israel in 2000 and Benedict XVI in 2009.
Church sources told The Jerusalem Post that it was hard to believe that the pope would cancel his trip, which in addition to Israel is to include visits to Jordan and the Palestinian Authority. In a worst-case scenario, one source said, the pope may do what former Russian president Dmitry Medvedev did when faced with similar Foreign Ministry work sanctions in January 2011: visit Jordan and the PA, and skip Israel.
There was also speculation as to whether another high-profile visit, that of British Prime Minister David Cameron, would take place as planned this week. Cameron previously canceled a trip to Israel due to wide-scale flooding in Britain last month.
Asked whether Cameron would be arriving as planned to hold meetings with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and address the Knesset on Wednesday, a spokesman for the British Embassy replied that “we don’t comment on the prime minister’s travel plans.”
After a seven-month hiatus, the Foreign Ministry’s diplomatic workers decided on Tuesday to re-launch work stoppages that crippled the ministry’s day-to-day functioning for much of last year, and which led to the cancellation of a number of high-level visits.
The sanctions were called after the workers rejected proposals for improved working conditions offered by the Treasury following a seven-month mediation process.
The workers said they will not provide consular services; not service official visits of foreign dignitaries in Israel or of Israeli officials abroad, including the president and the prime minister; not issue diplomatic passports and will stop providing logistical support for political appointees taking up their positions abroad.
These steps were taken after the Treasury put forward a “disgraceful proposal that does not include any solution to the situation that the foreign service has found itself in, and does not serve as a basis for any real discussions,” according to the Foreign Ministry’s workers’ committee.