Wednesday, 30 June 2010

Lieberman slams Netanyahu over government's secret meeting with Turkey

Tension within coalition as foreign minister accuses Netanyahu of undermining trust following reports PM approved clandestine talks with Turkish foreign minister.

Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman reacted furiously on Wednesday to reports that a cabinet colleague had held a secret meeting with the Turkish government, saying the move had damaged his relationship with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Lieberman accused the prime minister of undermining his authority after it emerged that another minister, Benjamin Ben Eliezer, had met with Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu in Switzerland - without first gaining permission from the foreign ministry.

"The foreign minister takes a very serious view of the fact that this occurred without informing the Ministry of Foreign Affairs," Lieberman's office said in a statement. "This is an insult to the norms of accepted behavior and a heavy blow to the confidence between the foreign minister and the prime minister."

Ben Eliezer, a Knesset member of Defense MInister Ehud Barak's Labor party, has over the past few weeks expressed concern over Israel's deteriorating relationswith Turkey. Ties between the once-close allies have come close to breakdown following a deadly raid by Israeli commandos on a Turkish-flagged aid ship a month ago.

Wednesday's talks were apparently aimed at repairing the diplomatic damage.

Later on Wednesday, Netanyahu's office released a statement that cited technical grounds for the failure to inform Lieberman of the meeting in Zurich.

Turkish officials had approached Ben Eliezer perosnally with a request for an informal discussion, which the prime minister had seen no cause to block, the statement said.

"In recent weeks there have been several attempts at contacts with Turkey of which the foreign ministry was aware," the statement said. "The foreign minister was not informed for technical reasons only. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is working in full cooperation with the foreign minister and will clarify the incident with him."

Lieberman's hard-line Yisrael Beiteinu party is the second largest in the government coalition, behind Netanyahu's Likud. But the foreign minister's right-wing views have made him unpalatable to many of Israel's allies and he has often taken a back seat internationally, leaving high-level diplomacy to Netanyahu and Barak.

Following Israel's May 31 raid, Ben Eliezer broke with other ministers in demanding an international inquiry into the incident, in which nine pro-Palestinian activists, eight of them Turkish, were killed.

Israel is conducting its own probe, led by a former Supreme Court judge and monitored by two international observers.

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