Israel is willing to host talks between the leaders of Russia and Ukraine on ending the Russian invasion, Jerusalem’s envoy to Moscow said Thursday.
Ambassador Alexander Ben Zvi told the Russian state news agency TASS that it would be “a great honor” for Israel if Russian President Vladimir Putin and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky meet in Jerusalem.
He stressed, however, that it was up to them to agree to such a meeting.
Ben Zvi floated the possibility that Israel could alternatively host delegations from Kyiv and Moscow that do not include their respective leaders.
“What was done in Turkey can also be done in our country,” he said, noting talks that took place between representatives of the warring nations in Istanbul last month.
The envoy also said that Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and Putin are “in regular contact with each other.” Bennett traveled to Moscow to meet with Putin in early March, and the two have also spoken several times by phone as part of Israel’s efforts to mediate between Russia and Ukraine. The premier has also held a number of calls with Zelensky.
Following Ben Zvi’s comments, Russian Ambassador to Israel Anatoly Viktorov played down the prospects of a meeting between Putin and Zelensky in Jerusalem, telling TASS that while Moscow welcomed the Israeli offer to host the sit-down, it was currently premature to hold face-to-face talks.
The idea to hold a meeting between Putin and Zelensky in Jerusalem came after the latter proposed the Israeli capital as a possible venue last month, after earlier asking Bennett to mediate between the countries.
In an interview Wednesday, Bennett said Zelensky had asked him to meet with Putin “to solve local problems or to try to achieve an end to the war.”
“I hope we will see an end to the war as soon as possible, but it’s not looking great,” he told CNN.
Israel has avoided aligning too closely with either side since Russian troops invaded Ukraine on February 24. It is one of the few countries that maintains relatively warm relations with both Ukraine, a fellow Western democracy, and Russia.
However, there appeared to be a shift in the rhetoric coming from Jerusalem regarding the situation in Ukraine in the wake of the reports of widespread civilian killings by the Russians. Foreign Minister Yair Lapid explicitly accused Russia of war crimes earlier this month, in the strongest comments against Moscow yet by a top Israeli official.
In the CNN interview, Bennett was asked if Israel could maintain the same “posture” toward Moscow following alleged Russian atrocities such as in the Kyiv suburb of Bucha.
“Actually, we’ve condemned Russia’s aggression many times,” he said. “I know that in order to mediate later at the right moment, we do need to continue to preserve lines of communications with Russia as well.”
Also Wednesday, Defense Minister Benny Gantz announced Israel will supply helmets and flak jackets to Ukraine’s emergency services, after long refusing to provide defensive equipment.