Ukraine trusts Israeli mediation, denies Bennett advised backing down to Russia

Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett attends a cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister's office in Jerusalem
Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett attends a cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister’s office in Jerusalem March 6, 2022. REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun

March 12, 2022

By Natalia Zinets and Dan Williams

LVIV, Ukraine/JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Ukraine on Saturday expressed hope for positive results from Israel’s attempt to broker peace with Russia, denying a media report that suggested Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett had tried to get Kyiv to do so to yield to Moscow’s demands.

Bennett, acting at the behest of Ukraine, held a three-hour Kremlin meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin last Saturday. Since then, he has spoken to Putin twice on the phone and four times to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, officials say.

“I believe that (Bennett) can play an important role because Israel is a country with a lot of history and parallels (to our situation) and a large migration of Jews from Ukraine, Russia and Belarus,” Zelenskyy said in a briefing.

Earlier on Saturday, a senior Ukrainian adviser denied a report by Israel’s Walla news agency, The Jerusalem Post and US news outlet Axios, citing an unidentified Ukrainian official, that claimed Bennett had urged Ukraine to give way to Russia.

Israel, “like other conditional mediator countries, is NOT offering to agree to Ukraine’s demands from the Russian Federation,” adviser Mykhailo Podolyak tweeted. “This is impossible for military and political reasons. On the contrary, Israel is asking Russia to assess events more appropriately.”

A senior Israeli official, who requested anonymity due to the sensitivity of the matter, called the report “manifestly false”.

“Prime Minister Bennett has never advised President Zelenskyy to accept a deal with Putin – because no such deal has been offered to Israel for us to do so,” the official said.


Moscow has said little about Bennett’s mediation efforts. It has issued conditions, including that Ukraine recognizes Crimea as Russia and Russian-backed breakaway territories as independent. Kyiv says it will not cede any territory.

An official briefed on the mediation, who spoke to Reuters on condition of anonymity, envisioned a possible situation where the warring countries “put it (the issue of recognition) aside, maybe for 10 or 15 years.”

As a possible precedent, the official cited the 1956 Soviet-Japanese peace pact that left the status of the disputed islands unresolved. It was not immediately clear whether the comments reflected broader thinking in Kyiv or Moscow.

Zelenskyi said he was open to peace talks in Jerusalem and expected Israel to provide Ukraine with security guarantees.

“I agreed to (Bennett) that holding meetings in Russia, Ukraine or Belarus is not constructive at this time. These are not the places where we (the leaders of the countries involved) can agree to end the war… Do I consider Israel, especially Jerusalem, to be such a place? I think the answer is yes.”

The crisis diplomacy coordinated with the USA, Germany and France was a high-wire act for Bennett.

He has left it to his foreign minister to condemn the Russian invasion on Israel’s behalf. That, another official said, should keep Putin’s door open to the Israeli prime minister.

“Power in Russia is concentrated entirely around this one man. It’s very personal. Israel has managed relations with Russia through leader-to-leader contacts, and that requires avoiding remarks that could arouse malice,” the official said.

Citing the time Putin and Zelenskyy invested in speaking to — and through — Bennett, a senior Israeli foreign ministry official, Simona Halperin, said in a radio interview on Thursday that mediation efforts “certainly, certainly have a chance.” to success”.

(Reporting by Natalia Zinets, Matthias Williams, Max Hunder and Dan Williams; Editing by Mark Potter) Ukraine trusts Israeli mediation, denies Bennett advised backing down to Russia

Bobby Allyn

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