Netanyahu heads to Italy to meet Pope Francis

PM who will be joined by 5 ministers, will light the fifth candle of Hanukka at Rome's Great Synagogue.

Pope Francis Rome 370 (photo credit: Reuters)
Pope Francis Rome 370
(photo credit: Reuters)
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu flies to Italy Sunday, where he will have his first audience with Pope Francis at the Vatican and personally invite him to visit Jerusalem. The meeting will take place on Monday.
President Shimon Peres and Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein already met with the pontiff at the Vatican to issue invitations to the Holy Land, the former in April, the latter in October.
Francis, who was ordained in March, has indicated a desire to visit Jerusalem but has not formally set a date.
Still, a Vatican advance team is expected to arrive in Israel in the near future to plan for a papal visit, which could happen next year.
CNN reported over the weekend that the pontiff would visit from May 25-26, citing an unnamed senior Israeli source.
When Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein urged him to visit Israel during an October meeting at the Vatican, Pope Francis replied, “I’ll come! I’ll come!” During an audience at the Vatican in October, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas also invited Francis to visit.
When the pope arrives, it is expected he will visit both Israel and the Palestinian territories, as did Benedict XVI in 2009 and John Paul II in 2000.
To date, there have been only three papal visits to Israel. The first was in 1964, when Pope Paul VI came to Jerusalem.
On Sunday night, Netanyahu will meet in Rome with Italian Jewish community leaders and celebrate the fifth night of Hanukka by lighting a menorah at the city’s Great Synagogue.
Five ministers will accompany the prime minister to Italy: Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman, Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch, Home Front Defense Minister and Energy and Water Minister Silvan Shalom, Education Minister Shai Piron and Culture and Sports Minister Limor Livnat.
Together with Netanyahu they will hold an annual government- to-government meeting with their Italian counterparts.
Netanyahu will also speak with Italian Prime Minister Enrico Letta. The two last met in October when Netanyahu was in Rome to speak with US Secretary of State John Kerry.