PM’s China trip to go ahead despite labor dispute

Netanyahu to try and convince Beijing to curb purchase of Iranian oil, and to approve new round of sanctions

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) with Chinese culture minister Cai Wu in Jerusalem, June 22, 2011. (photo credit: Amos Ben Gershom/GPO/Flash90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) with Chinese culture minister Cai Wu in Jerusalem, June 22, 2011. (photo credit: Amos Ben Gershom/GPO/Flash90)

The Foreign Ministry’s workers’ union has granted employees permission to coordinate Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s upcoming trip to China, despite an ongoing labor dispute over work conditions.

The union said, in a statement Tuesday, that it would enable the visit to go ahead as planned next week because of its importance to Israel’s long-term strategic interests.

“Out of consideration for Israel’s diplomatic standing, the historic importance of the trip, and the long-term damage that would be caused by canceling it, it has been decided to allow the visit to go ahead as planned,” read the statement.

The diplomats are fighting for more pay and better working conditions, and against the fact that, in the current government, some of the Foreign Ministry’s key roles have been handed to other government institutions.

The head of the workers’ union, Yair Frommer, told The Times of Israel that the gaps between the two sides “are still wide” and that, if no acceptable offer is made in the coming days, the sanctions will be expanded, so much so as to totally interrupt the government’s ability to manage the country’s foreign relations.

The labor sanctions have already derailed the travel plans of Justice Minister Tzipi Livni and Finance Minister Yair Lapid, who asked for but did not receive diplomatic passports. Other politicians have traveled abroad using their personal passports.

The possibility of Netanyahu’s visit being endangered was particularly disconcerting, since he has twice canceled planned trips to the People’s Republic, offending its leaders, and it took extensive diplomatic work to obtain a third invitation.

Netanyahu’s visit is set to focus on convincing Beijing, a veto-wielding member of the UN Security Council, to approve new sanctions against Iran and curb its purchase of Iranian oil. Netanyahu, who will be accompanied by a group of Israeli businesspeople, will also seek to upgrade trade relations between the two countries.

Sino-Israeli trade has increased from $8 million in 1990 to $5.5 billion in 2010. According to Foreign Policy, bilateral trade currently stands “at almost $10 billion” — and both sides are interested in intensifying trade relations even further.

Last year, Israel and China celebrated 20 years since the two nations officially established diplomatic relations.

Netanyahu’s trip to China will coincide with a visit there by Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas. The two leaders’ schedules were deliberately planned so they will not be in the same cities at the same time.

The last Israeli prime minister to visit China was Ehud Olmert in 2007.

Raphael Ahren contributed to this report

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