Libya’s prime minister has suspended his foreign minister following an informal meeting with her Israeli colleague.
Libya, which supports the Palestinian cause, does not recognize Israel, and the meeting has generated demonstrations.
The encounter with Najla al-Mangoush, according to Israel’s Eli Cohen, was a historic first step in establishing ties.
Israel is attempting to strengthen ties with other Arab and Muslim-majority countries, including oil-rich Libya.
However, Libya’s presidential council, which represents the country’s three provinces, declared that normalizing relations with Israel was unlawful.
The Speaker’s Office in parliament has accused Ms Mangoush of grand treason, and Prime Minister Abdul Hamid Dbeibah has referred her for investigation.
Mr Cohen said he met Ms Mangoush by chance last week on the sidelines of a summit in Rome, and they discussed “the great potential for the relations between the two countries”.
He said they talked about Israeli aid in humanitarian issues, agriculture, water management and the importance of preserving Jewish heritage in Libya, including renovating synagogues and cemeteries.
Libya’s foreign ministry said Ms Mangoush had rejected a meeting with representatives from Israel, and what had taken place was “an unprepared, casual encounter during a meeting at Italy’s foreign affairs ministry”.
A statement also said the interaction did not include “any discussions, agreements or consultations” and the ministry “renews its complete and absolute rejection of normalisation” with Israel.
Protests broke out in the capital Tripoli and some other cities following news of the meeting. Roads were blocked, tyres burnt and demonstrators waved the Palestinian flag, though the protests appear to have been relatively small.
Should any deal between Israel and Libya be brokered, it would be complicated by that political division, which has existed since the overthrow of long-time dictator Muammar Gaddafi 12 years ago.