Netanyahu, Levy in Accord on Role of Foreign Ministry

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Foreign Minister David Levy have apparently managed to patch up their differences.

The two held a two-hour meeting Sunday in an effort to mend a rift in their relationship that was made public when Levy aides complained that Levy was being left out of foreign policy decisions.

The Prime Minister’s Office described Sunday’s meeting as good, adding that the two had agreed on ways to cooperate.

During their talks the two agreed to form a ministerial committee, headed by the premier and including the foreign and defense ministers, to formulate foreign and defense policy.

Levy and Netanyahu also agreed that the Foreign Ministry would maintain a special status in matters regarding the peace process.

In addition, they decided to appoint former Israel Defense Force chief of staff Dan Sharon to head the Israeli side of the steering committee for negotiations with the Palestinians.

The long-standing rivalry between Netanyahu and Levy resurfaced with a vengeance two weeks ago, following a series of what Levy considered slights to his position and that of his ministry.

These included political contacts carried out by the prime minister’s diplomatic adviser, Dore Gold, without Levy’s knowledge, and the failure of the Prime Minister’s Office to brief the Foreign Ministry about contacts with foreign diplomats.

The final straw came when Netanyahu made his first official trip to Jordan this month as prime minister without being accompanied by Levy or any member of the Foreign Ministry staff.

To demonstrate his ire, Levy boycotted Cabinet meetings and sessions of a forum of senior ministers that dealt with security issues.

Levy returned to his office in Jerusalem on Sunday after making what was described as a personal trip to New York.

Prior to his meeting with Netanyahu, Levy did not attend a meeting held earlier in the day at which members of the ministerial forum discussed a Defense Ministry proposal for an IDF redeployment in the West Bank town of Hebron.

During those talks, the ministers disagreed on the details of the plan, which calls for Israeli troops to remain in more of the Arab districts of Hebron than originally agreed to in the Interim Agreement signed last September in Washington.

The plan also calls for greater numbers of Israeli troops to remain in Hebron than originally envisioned.

During the meeting, Transport Minister Yitzhak Levy, of the National Religious Party, demanded that the plan also call for strengthening the Jewish population in Hebron, which currently numbers about 450.

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