Libya suspended its foreign minister after she and her counterpart from Israel had what Israeli officials described as an “historic” meeting that could herald stronger ties between the two countries, which have no formal relations.
(Bloomberg) — Libya suspended its foreign minister after she and her counterpart from Israel had what Israeli officials described as an “historic” meeting that could herald stronger ties between the two countries, which have no formal relations.
Libyan Prime Minister Abdul Hamid Dbeibah referred Najla Mangoush for investigation after the meeting with Israeli Foreign Minister Eli Cohen in Rome last week.
On Sunday, Israel publicized the meeting, with Cohen saying “it is the first step in the relationship between Israel and Libya.”
“The size and strategic location of Libya give ties with it great importance and enormous potential,” Cohen said.
The news sparked some protests in western Libya, where Dbeibah’s Tripoli-based government holds sway.
Israel has boosted its ties with Arab nations in recent years, gaining formal recognition from the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Morocco and Sudan. Those moves followed it signing deals with Egypt and Jordan in earlier decades.
But the majority of Arab states still don’t have formal relations with Israel.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is working to expand ties with more Middle Eastern, African and Asian countries. Particular focus has been on Saudi Arabia, the Arab world’s biggest economy.
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Israel’s opposition criticized Cohen, saying he should have kept the meeting a secret.
“As prime minister and foreign minister I held talks that no one will ever know about,” Yair Lapid, who was premier until Netanyahu succeeded him late last year, said. “The foreign policy of a country like Israel is complicated and at times explosive and must be managed cautiously and with wisdom. Secret meetings that were never leaked have built relationships that, over the years, turned into historic agreements with countries of the region. This isn’t what happened now.”
Cohen raised with the Libyan minister the need to preserve the heritage of Libyan Jews, nearly all of whom immigrated to Israel in the 1950s, and the renovation of synagogues and Jewish cemeteries in Libya, Israel said in a statement.
Mangoush is foreign minister under the Tripoli-based government, while a rival authority is based in the east of the nation. Repeated international efforts, driven largely by the United Nations, have failed to result in a unified government, though some headway was made when the central bank earlier this month said it was re-unifying.
–With assistance from Hatem Mohareb.
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