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Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with Guatemalan President Jimmy Morales at the opening of the Guatamalan embassy in Jerusalem.(Photo by: KOBI GIDEON/GPO)
Embassy closures abroad forestalled as FM workers, Treasury reach accord
“There is an agreement,” one ministry official said, “but our situation is still bad.”
A joint negotiating team representing Foreign and Defense Ministry workers reached an agreement with the Treasury on Sunday night that at the last minute averted closure of Israeli embassies and consulates abroad.
Under the agreement, the expenses incurred by workers abroad will not be included in their global salary – as has been the case since January – and taxed at a 40% rate.
Foreign Minister Israel Katz welcomed the agreement, saying it is “an important step on the way to strengthening the foreign service and its workers, and helping Israel’s representatives abroad deal with the challenges they face.”
Histadrut labor federation chairman Arnon Bar-David also issued a statement welcoming the accord – hammered out between the workers’ representatives and Deputy Finance Minister Yitzhak Cohen – saying that diplomats, as well as Defense and Economic Ministry workers serving abroad, proudly represent Israel “and we all need to give the full backing to their efforts.”
The agreement was reached as the Foreign Ministry was ratcheting up sanctions and had planned to close its diplomatic representations in 11 African capitals on Monday, and do the same on a different continent each day of the week until all the embassies and consulates abroad would be closed by Friday.
Last week, the workers announced that they would not deal with the logistics of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s trips abroad, a step that called into question three trips – to Japan, Ukraine and India – that he has planned before the September 17 election.
The accord comes a day after dozens of Israeli diplomats abroad, including some of Israel’s most senior ambassadors such as its envoys to Russia, Poland, France, the Netherlands and the European Union, called on the workers’ committee to step up sanctions.
In a letter to the ministry’s workers’ committee, the diplomats urged them to call for ceasing to provide all diplomatic and consular services if the negotiations broke down.
The diplomats charged that the government was destroying the country’s diplomatic corps and turning Israel into “the only country that does not manage its foreign relations in an orderly manner. This cannot be accepted.”
The cuts, the letter read, “do not make it possible for the country’s representatives, entrusted with national security, to fulfill their roles professionally and honestly.”
While the accord addresses salary issues of employees abroad, it does not necessarily address the budgetary problems facing the ministry that caused it recently – for the first time ever – to miss payments to a slew of international organizations, including the Council of Europe. 
Over the last few years, the ministry has seen both its budget and authority shrink as responsibilities it once held were parceled out to other ministries.
“There is an agreement,” one ministry official said, “but our situation is still bad.”
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