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Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman on Tuesday said he was surprised by the proficiency in Hebrew of the chief Palestinian negotiator, Saeb Erekat, at a tripartite summit held Tuesday in New York.

Lieberman, a far-rightist who has proposed forcing Israeli Arabs to swear an oath of loyalty to the state, exchanged seasonal greetings with Erekat at the meeting, which was hosted by U.S. President Barack Obama. The Palestinian negotiatior wished him a happy new year, referring to the recent Jewish holiday of Rosh Hashanah.

Speaking to reporters after the summit, Lieberman said: "Erekat - I didn't know that he had such good Hebrew."

During the meeting, the foreign minister also shook the hand of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who said to him: "Hello, Foreign Minster."

Earlier this year, Erekat said Lieberman had insulted world powers pushing for peace by announcing that Israel was not bound by previous commitments made at a 2007 gathering in Annapolis, Maryland.