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Lieberman Furious Over Turkish Talks in Zurich

A crisis has developed between FM Lieberman and PM Netanyahu over a secret meeting held with the Turks – and without Lieberman – in Zurich.
By Hana Levi Julian
First Publish: 7/1/2010, 10:02 AM / Last Update: 7/1/2010, 11:53 AM

Flash 90 / archive

A crisis has developed between Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman and Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu over a clandestine foreign relations meeting held behind Lieberman's back.

The secret talks were held Wednesday in Zurich between Industry, Trade and Labor Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer and Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu.

Lieberman, whose Yisrael Beitenu (Israel Our Home) party is the second-largest member of Netanyahu's coalition, responded harshly Wednesday night to a report broadcast on Channel 2 television news that Defense Minister Ehud Barak had also been aware the prime minister sent Ben-Eliezer to the meeting.

“The foreign minister views very seriously the fact that this took place without informing the Ministry of Foreign Affairs,” Lieberman said in a statement released by his office. “This harms the norms of accepted behavior and the feeling of confidence between the foreign minister and the prime minister.”

Lieberman made it clear in a radio interview Thursday morning, however, that his anger over the issue was not personal, but rather a matter of policy. The foreign minister explained that a meeting between Israel's political echelon and Turkish officials, after the list of demands sent by Turkey to Israel, is not beneficial to Israel's position.

Despite media speculation, Lieberman added that he has “absolutely no thoughts about quitting the coalition. We were the first to sign the coalition agreement and we will not give anyone the pleasure of seeing us abandon the coalition.”

Turkish officials with whom Ben-Eliezer has had strong ties for years allegedly asked for the meeting.

Netanyahu: No Reason to Block Meeting
The Prime Minister's Office also released a statement of its own Wednesday night, saying that Netanyahu saw no reason to prevent the meeting.

“Over the last few weeks there have been a number of initiatives for contacts with Turkey which the Foreign Ministry was aware of,” the PMO said, adding that Lieberman had been left out of the loop “for technical reasons only. Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu is working in full cooperation with the Foreign Minister and will clarify the incident with him.”

No details were made available about the content of the meeting between Ben-Eliezer and Davutoglu.

Ben-Eliezer was the only minister to demand an international inquiry into the May 31 flotilla clash in which nine terror activists died after attacking Israeli Navy commandos who boarded their vessel. Israel is also conducting an internal probe into the incident, monitored by two international observers and headed by a retired Supreme Court justice.

The seizure of the Mavi Marmara and five other ships took place after the maritime convoy ignored repeated warnings by the Navy to change course, and continued to head towards Gaza. The stated aim of the flotilla was to break Israel's sovereignty over the Hamas terrorist-ruled region.