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Jerusalem said to warn Kyiv it won’t tolerate continued criticism amid mediation bid

UK envoy to Israel praises Bennett’s efforts to help resolve conflict, notes: ‘Israel has probably the best relationship with both countries of any democracy’

This combination of file pictures created on March 6, 2022, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett (L, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky (C) and Russian President Vladimir Putin. (Various sources/AFP)
This combination of file pictures created on March 6, 2022, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett (L, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky (C) and Russian President Vladimir Putin. (Various sources/AFP)

Israel has sent a “stiff message” to Ukraine over the past day that it is not prepared to tolerate a situation in which, while it tries to mediate between Kyiv and Moscow, it gets publicly attacked by Ukrainian officials, Channel 12 reported on Tuesday, quoting unnamed Israeli sources.

The message appears to have resonated, the report said the Israeli sources suggested, as Ukraine’s foreign minister earlier Tuesday apologized for incorrectly claiming El Al was accepting money “soaked in Ukrainian blood” by accepting funds via a Russian payment system.

Also Tuesday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky tweeted his thanks to Bennett for his continued mediation efforts.

This, after Zelensky last week said that while his relations with Bennett were “not bad at all,” he did not feel that the Israeli prime minister was “wrapped in our flag.”

While Foreign Minister Yair Lapid has condemned the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Bennett has not done so. Israel declined a US request to sponsor a UN Security Council resolution condemning the invasion last month; it did support the subsequent General Assembly resolution to do so.

Israel’s reported message of complaint raised eyebrows among Israeli commentators, who noted that Ukraine is battling an invasion, with its cities bombarded, and civilians targeted. Channel 12’s political analyst Amit Segal noted that, if true, the complaint would mark “the height of chutzpah: a nation is fighting for its life, and we’re protesting its table manners.”

Zelensky asked Israel to try to mediate with Russia in a February 25 phone call, and Bennett expressed readiness to do so in a call with Putin two days later.

Bennett then flew to Moscow on Saturday, breaking the Shabbat in the cause of the potentially life-saving mission, and has held calls with both presidents since his return.

Meanwhile, Russian President Vladimir Putin has relayed to the Israeli prime minister Moscow’s proposal for a ceasefire with Ukraine, which would not require a regime change in Kyiv, according to a report by the Axios news site.

Bennett has not presented either leader with an Israeli ceasefire proposal and is, rather, focusing on passing along messages from one leader to the other, helping clarify Putin’s position to Zelensky and the West, according to the report.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett (left) meets with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow, Russia, on October 22, 2021. (Kobi Gideon/GPO)

Speaking to Israeli reporters on Tuesday, British ambassador to Israel Neil Wigan praised Bennett for his efforts vis-a-vis Russia, noting Israel’s unique position.

“We appreciate the Prime Minister’s efforts to explore what scope there is for ending this conflict with Russia. Israel has probably the best relationship with both countries of any democracy,” he said.

Incoming UK Ambassador to Israel Neil Wigan. (Courtesy: UK Embassy, Tel Aviv)

“As for the chance Bennett’s efforts will succeed? It depends on Putin, and whether he really wants to stop the war and find a diplomatic solution,” he added.

“Bennett is the first leader to have sat down with Putin for three hours since the war began, which is a major achievement. It was the beginning of a process. I don’t think anyone was under the impression it would stop the war the next day. The question is whether Putin is open to a diplomatic solution. It is important to try to stop [Russia’s] attacks via diplomacy, and that is exactly what Bennett tried to do, while keeping the Ukrainians in the picture.”

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