Submitted by Blue Apples
Almost without fail, diplomatic efforts diffusing conflicts that the Prime Minister of Israel becomes involved in center around the resurgence of hostilities in the West Bank or Gaza Strip. However, the Ukraine-Russia conflict has become center stage for the highest profile diplomatic engagement of the post-Netanyahu era thus far.
Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett surprised the international community last week when it was revealed that he had taken an clandestine trip to Moscow in order to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin in an apparent peacemaking effort. According to sources, Bennett had apprised Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelesky and French President Emmanuel Macron of his trip to Moscow before it had become public knowledge. After 3 hours of deliberations in the Kremlin, Bennett then traveled to Germany to meet with Chancellor Olaf Scholz to discuss the outbreak of the Russia-Ukraine war among other issues.
Bennett's coincided with on-going ceasefire talks between Russian and Ukrainian officials in the last couple of weeks. The confluence of those diplomatic engagements resulted in the first tangible offer from Russia to conclude the conflict when Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov declared that Putin offered to end the war if Ukraine if they fulfilled 4 conditions. According to Peskov, the terms offered by Putin were
- the end of any military action against Russia,
- recognition of Crimea as Russian territory,
- the acknowledgement of the sovereignty of the Luhansk and Donetsk people's republics, and
- amending Ukraine's constitution to solidify their standing as a neutral state serving as a buffer between Russia and NATO member states in eastern Europe.
Ukraine and the international community balked at Putin's supposed olive branch, citing the enormous secession of territory to Russia as being unfathomable. In the days of continued bloodshed since the initial peace terms were put on the table, Bennett has surprisingly departed from the sentiment echoed by that international response. According to the Times of Israel, the Jerusalem Post and Ukrainian sources, the Israeli Prime Minister spoke with Zelensky again on Tuesday and advised the Ukrainian President to agree to the terms offered by Putin. The Prime Minister’s Office denied the claim.
Sources breaking this news from Ukraine stated that Bennett initiated the phone call with Zelensky in which he pleaded for him, saying "If I were you, would think about the lives of my people and take the offer."
Zelensky did not take well to the proposal, responding with a brief "I hear you." Ukrainian officials offered no other immediate insight into what Zelensky said to Bennett. Zelensky and his inner circle characterized Bennett's advice as directing Ukraine to surrender, to which they all resoundingly agreed would not happen. Those same officials believe that Putin's terms were just the first step toward his greater ambitions to seize more territory from Ukraine.
“Bennett has proposed that we surrender,” the senior Ukrainian official tells the Hebrew news sites. “We have no intention of doing so. We know that Putin’s proposal is just the beginning.”
The report says that Israel has also asked that Ukraine cease its requests for Israeli military or defense assistance, as this could hinder Jerusalem’s efforts to mediate and maintain neutrality.
Bennett's call to Zelensky marks a departure from the previously amicable relationship between the leaders. Following the suggestion of the Israeli Prime Minister, Ukrainian officials changed their tone to go on the offensive against Bennett by criticizing his role as a mediator. "We don't need a mailbox," said one official. "We have enough of those. If Bennett wants to be neutral and mediate, we would expect to see him appoint someone to work on it day and night and try to get a compromise."
The fallout between Bennett and Zelensky comes on the heels of a meeting between Ukrainian Ambassador to Israel Yvgeni Kornichuk and Knesset Chairman Mickey Levi scheduled for next Tuesday. The crux of their meeting is to agree to a speech to the Knesset from Zelensky to be conducted virtually in the same manner he recently addressed the US Senate. Israel is the first state that Ukraine has engaged with in the interest of diplomacy with Russia that hasn't wholly echoed the sentiments held by NATO member states. Given the integral importance of Israel on the global stage, their position certainly advances Russia's efforts to conclude the war on their terms. This unforeseen development comes at a particularly perilous time when Russia has been overtaken by a stranglehold of sanctions imposed by western states.
In response, Russia had looked eastward to China and India, among others, to forge closer ties in an effort to mitigate the impact of those sanctions. Surprisingly, Israel has entered into that fold following Bennett's most recent discussion with Zelensky in a manner that evidently took the Ukrainian President by complete surprise. Zelensky likely isn't alone with that reaction, as Israeli's position certainly marks a watershed moment in which the Ukraine-allied axis is forced to adjust its calculus as it is confronted with a reality in which support for Russia is greater than previously expected.