The meeting between Mangoush and Israeli Foreign Minister Eli Cohen was a first for the two countries.
Libya and Israel have no official ties and the meeting between the two ministers sparked protests in Tripoli and other cities in the country. Protesters were seen waving Palestinian flags and blocking roads.
The news about their meeting was first announced by Cohen, who said: “I spoke with the [Libyan] foreign minister about the great potential for the two countries from their relations.”
The Israeli side portrayed the meeting as a first step towards normalisation.
Since 2020, Israel has normalised ties with the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Morocco and Sudan in a series of deals brokered by the United States. Saudi Arabia is also reported to be considering normalising ties with Israel.
Following Cohen’s announcement and the backlash, the head of Libya’s Tripoli-based Government of National Unity (GNU), Abdulhamid al-Dbeibah, suspended Mangoush and referred her to an investigation.
Libya’s foreign ministry said Mangoush had rejected a meeting with representatives of Israel and that what had occurred was “an unprepared, casual encounter”.
The Libyan ministry’s statement said the interaction did not include “any discussions, agreements or consultations”, and added the ministry “renews its complete and absolute rejection of normalisation” with Israel.
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An Israeli official then seemed to contradict that account telling Reuters that the meeting had been agreed in advance “at the highest levels” in Libya and lasted more than two hours.
The Israeli official said that “the Libya prime minister sees Israel as a possible bridge to the West and the US administration”.
According to reports, the prospect of normalisation between Libya and Israel was first discussed in a meeting between Dbeibah and CIA Director William Burns, who visited the country in January.
Burns, according to reports, had encouraged Dbeibah’s government to join the four other Arab countries and normalise relations with Israel.
While Dbeibah gave initial approval to the idea he was worried about the public backlash in a country that has long shown strong support and aid for the Palestinians.
The meeting was facilitated by Italian Foreign Minister Antonio Tajani, Israel’s foreign ministry said, adding they had discussed possible cooperation and Israeli aid in humanitarian issues, agriculture and water management.
Cohen said he had spoken to Mangoush about the importance of preserving Jewish heritage in Libya.
Any Israeli effort to strengthen ties with Libya could be complicated by Libya’s bitter internal divisions. The country is divided between the GNU, which rules the west, and an administration in the east dominated by eastern commander Khalifa Haftar.
Libya’s GNU was installed in early 2021 through a UN-backed peace process but its legitimacy has been challenged since early 2022 by the eastern-based parliament after a failed attempt to hold an election.
Previous foreign policy moves by the GNU, including agreements it has reached with Turkey, have been rejected by the parliament and subject to legal challenges.
Repeated international efforts, driven largely by the United Nations, have failed to result in a unified government, though some headway was made when the Libyan central bank earlier this month said it was reunifying.
(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by PostX News and is published from a syndicated feed.)