Tzipi Livni, Israel's justice minister and chief negotiator for renewed peace talks with the Palestinians, delivers a statement in Jerusalem August 25, 2013 (Photo: Reuters)
Israel's chief negotiator Tzipi Livni came under attack on Sunday for talks with Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas, with senior officials insisting there was no intention to resume peace negotiations.
Thursday's meeting in London was the first between the two sides since the collapse last month of the latest round of talks, and came after both held separate talks with US Secretary of State John Kerry.
But Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's office and ministers quickly moved to distance themselves from the Livni-Abbas meeting, insisting it was private and did not signal any official intention to resume talks with the Palestinians.
Israel pulled out of the talks in mid-April, saying it would not negotiate with any Palestinian government supported by Hamas after the leadership in the West Bank signed a unity deal with the rival Islamist rulers of Gaza, who are committed to the destruction of the Jewish state.
Although Netanyahu was reportedly angered by the meeting, he knew about it in advance and communicated his concerns to Livni, an official in his office said, the implication being that he had not moved to block the talks.
"Prime Minister Netanyahu made clear to Minister Livni even before her meeting with Abu Mazen (Abbas) that she would be representing only herself and not the government of Israel," the official said.
"Netanyahu made it clear to Minister Livni that Israel's position, as decided unanimously by the (security) cabinet, was that the Israeli government will not conduct negotiations with a Palestinian government supported by Hamas, a terror organisation whose declared intention is the destruction of Israel."
Intelligence Minister Yuval Steinitz, a hardliner close to Netanyahu, was quick to criticise Livni.
"I don't know of any civilised Western country where a minister would meet, on his own initiative, the head of an authority or state in a period of crisis and tension," he said at the start of the cabinet meeting, in remarks broadcast on army radio.
"It doesn't look good and it isn't right."
Speaking on Channel 2's Meet the Press on Saturday, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman also insisted the meeting had been private.
"It's true that Livni met Abu Mazen, but these were certainly not negotiations," he said, calling it a "private" initiative, and noting that Livni herself had voted in favour of the security cabinet decision to freeze talks with any government backed by Hamas.
Following the intra-Palestinian unity deal, Hamas is working with the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) to piece together an interim government of political independents which is to be announced in the coming days.
Abbas has insisted the government will follow his policy of recognising Israel, rejecting violence and abiding by past peace agreements, while Hamas has said the new administration will not have a political mandate.