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Israeli peace envoy under fire for meeting with Palestinian leader

Israeli peace envoy draws fire at home for meeting with Palestinian leader in London while talks on hold
Justice Minister Tzipi Livni says Israel's prime minister knew in advance of her meeting with Mahmoud Abbas
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ignores Livni controversy during comments at weekly cabinet meeting

Israeli Justice Minister Tzipi Livni is taking heat for meeting last week with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, with Israeli politicians on both the right and left calling for her resignation.

Livni, Israel's chief negotiator with the Palestinians, met with Abbas during a visit to London on Thursday, the first top-level meeting between Israeli and Palestinian officials since talks imploded nearly six weeks ago.

Israel suspended talks last month after the Palestinian Authority announced a reconciliation with Hamas, the Islamist group that controls the Gaza Strip. All high-level contacts between Israeli and Palestinian officials were frozen.

Livni and Abbas held separate meetings in London last week with U.S. Secretary of State John F. Kerry, who had brokered the talks after they renewed last summer. Reportedly following an American request, the Israeli and Palestinian officials held a meeting that was kept secret until revealed by Israeli media Friday night.

Since then, Livni has come under fire from different parts of Israel’s political spectrum -- for different reasons.

A statement issued Saturday night by the Jewish Home, a hawkish political party in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s ruling coalition, slammed Livni for having “lost all contact with Earth” and contravening the Cabinet's decision to freeze the peace process.

Noting Livni herself supported the government move, the statement advised her “the exit door is open” if she couldn’t follow Cabinet decisions. Jewish Home lawmaker Ayelet Shaked told reporters Sunday that the Palestinians were to blame for tripping up the talks and that Israel must stop its “ongoing capitulation.”

Although he supported Livni’s move, opposition leader Isaac Herzog urged her to quit Netanyahu’s government, where she “serves as a fig leaf.” In a radio interview Sunday, Herzog called the current situation a “resounding failure of Netanyahu and his policy.”

According to Livni’s office, Netanyahu was informed in advance of the meeting, which did not appear on her itinerary and was arranged at the last minute. Unnamed Israeli officials were quoted as saying that the prime minister had told her she would be representing only herself, not the government.

Few details emerged from the meeting, the first bilateral session not chaperoned by Yitzhak Molcho, a private attorney who has served as Netanyahu’s personal envoy to the talks.

Speaking on Israeli television Saturday, Foreign Minister Avidgor Lieberman confirmed the two met but denied negotiations took place. “It’s her right to meet with whomever she wants, even if they played checkers,” he said, adding the Cabinet decision was clear to all, including Livni.

Netanyahu ignored the controversial meeting in his remarks at the Cabinet's weekly meeting Sunday, but made his position on the Palestinian Authority clear, slamming it for “unceasing incitement” that he said breeds anti-Semitism and a rejection of Israel’s right to exist.

Sobelman is a special correspondent.

Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times
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