A bizarre diplomatic back and forth between Ukraine and Israel erupted this past week after a top aide to President Volodymyr Zelensky told the media that Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett urged Kiev to accept Putin's proposal for ending the war, effectively surrendering.
"Bennett is basically telling us to surrender and we have no intention of doing that," the unnamed senior Ukrainian official told Axios. In the wake of the report, the Israeli Prime Minister's office issued a vehement denial of the claim.
According to Axios, Zelensky and his advisors were angry over the alleged recommendation from Bennett, which may have led to leaking the exchange to the press. Kiev says that Bennett had initiated the Tuesday call wherein the advice was given.
Russia has demanded that to end the war, Ukraine must recognize Russian sovereignty over Crimea, the statehood of Donetsk and Luhansk, as well as write neutrality regarding NATO into its national constitution, or effectively 'demilitarize' itself vis-a-vis its relationship with the Western military alliance.
Israeli media also picked up on the story, with The Jerusalem Post describing:
Prime Minister Naftali Bennett told Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenksy that he recommends Ukraine take the offer made by Russian President Vladimir Putin to end the war - which includes many Ukrainian sacrifices - in a phone call on Tuesday, according to an official in Ukraine's government. According to the official, Zelenksy did not take Bennett's advice.
The source claimed that the phone call was initiated by Bennett. "If I were you, I would think about the lives of my people and take the offer," Bennett reportedly said.
Zelenksy's response was short. "I hear you," he said.
PM Bennett has had increasing direct interaction between Putin and Zelensky since the invasion kicked off on Feb.24.
"Bennett told us to surrender," a Ukrainian official was cited as saying. "We have no intention of doing so. We know Putin's offer is only the beginning."
Axios filled in some further details based on the Ukrainian sources as follows:
- The government in Kyiv thinks Bennett has not been acting as a mediator, the senior Ukrainian official said. He added that a mediator needs to push for compromises, put proposals on the table and not simply pass messages.
- “We don’t need another mailbox, we have enough of those," the Ukrainian official said.
- The official added that Zelensky and his advisers believe that if Bennett wants to stay neutral and mediate, he needs to appoint an envoy that will work on this full time.
By Saturday, not only had Israel denied the report, but Ukraine's government itself is downplaying it, given there's likely concern that it could lead to unnecessary tensions between the two countries, also as Israel is increasingly looking like a possible mediator amid the war. But it remains the initial story was likely leaked for a reason.