Israeli premier Benjamin Netanyahu met with Pope Francis for the first time at an audience granted on December 2 at the Vatican. There are reports that the pontiff and the Israeli leader conferred about Iran's uranium enrichment and weaponization program, as well as Israeli-Palestinian relations. In addition, negotiations are set to deal with the issue of Christians living within Israel and the wider Mideast.
Israeli diplomats averred that any meeting between a Pope and an Israeli prime minister is important. One of the issues to be discussed by Pope Francis and Netanyahu is a possible visit by the pontiff to Israel this year. The first pope to visit Israel came in 1964 when Pope Paul VI journeyed to Jerusalem. Later, both John Paul II and Benedict XVI made official visits. It is expected that Pope Francis will address the Israeli Knesset on his upcoming trip. Israel and the Vatican established official diplomatic relations in 1993 during the pontificate of John Paul II - who is largely credited with greatly improving relations between Jews and Catholics.
Pope Francis' advance coordinators are expected to arrive very soon to assist in planning the papal visit. Some sources suggest that Pope Francis will visit Israel May 25-26 next year.
Invitations for Pope Francis to visit the region have been coming for months. It was in October that Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein asked the Pope to come to Israel, In response, Pope Francis - who enjoyed close relations with the Jewish community in his native Argentina - reportedly said in response “I’ll come! I’ll come!” Earlier in the year, Israeli President Shimon Peres also invited the pontiff to Israel. Not to be outdone, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has invited Pope Francis to visit.
On December 1, Netanyahu vowed at the Great Synagogue in Rome that he would not be silent in the face of any threat from a nuclear Iran. On December 2, he is slated to meet with the prime minister of Italy.