January 13, 2011 for The Associated Press
by Josh Lederman

JERUSALEM – German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s upcoming visit to Israel may be canceled because of a Foreign Ministry strike, a diplomat said Thursday, raising concern about the four-week strike’s damage to Israel’s ties with the world.

Merkel and her Cabinet were due to arrive later this month, but the trip might be called off, said union spokesman Yaakov Livne. German officials were scheduled to arrive in Israel this week to prepare for the trip but decided to stay home, he said.

A decision to call off Merkel’s visit would be an embarrassment for Israel, forcing the cancellation of an annual joint session with Germany’s Cabinet, considered symbolic of the warm relationship between the two nations.

Six decades after German Nazis and their collaborators killed 6 million Jews in the Holocaust of World War II, Israel and Germany have become close allies.

A January visit to Israel by Russian President Dmitry Medvedev this month already has been canceled. The Kremlin said Medvedev would still make his planned trip to the West Bank, but that too may now be in jeopardy, according to a senior Foreign Ministry official who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to comment publicly on the trip.

The official said the Russian delegation would need Israeli permission to enter the West Bank through Jordan, and that might not be forthcoming.

Both the Kremlin and Palestinian Foreign Minister Riad al-Malki said they were unaware of any obstacles to Medvedev’s West Bank visit. “The visit to Jordan and the Palestinian territories is being organized in the usual way,” the Kremlin press office said Thursday, offering no details.

Although the Palestinian Authority administers daily government functions for West Bank Palestinians, Israel retains control over its borders under an interim peace accord.

Diplomats say they are striking because they are paid 30 percent to 40 percent less than their colleagues working for Israel’s defense establishment. Livne said workers are negotiating with the Finance Ministry but the small raises offered so far are inadequate.

In another effect of the strike, no consular services are available to Israelis living or traveling abroad except in emergencies, Livne said.

Diplomatic strikes are rare, and the current Israeli walkout is one of the longest.

In 2001, Greek diplomats went on strike to protest low pay but returned to their jobs two weeks later after failing to win any concessions from their government

Diplomats also staged one-day strikes to protest budget cuts last July in Italy, and twice in France in December 2003.

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Associated Press writers Mohammed Daraghmeh in Ramallah, West Bank, David Nowak in Moscow and Victor L. Simpson in Rome contributed to this report.