Netanyahu to meet Zelensky on sidelines of UN General Assembly, Kyiv’s envoy says

Sitdown will be first since premier returned to power, making him one of last Western leaders to meet Ukrainian president, who repeatedly invited him to Kyiv

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (L) shakes hands with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky during a joint press conference in the Ukrainian capital Kyiv, on August 19, 2019. (Sergei Supinsky/AFP)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (L) shakes hands with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky during a joint press conference in the Ukrainian capital Kyiv, on August 19, 2019. (Sergei Supinsky/AFP)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will meet Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly, Ukraine’s Ambassador to Israel Yevgen Korniychuk said on Tuesday.

The lower-profile setting, relative to a visit to Kyiv, appeared to be the preferred backdrop for Netanyahu, who has sought to avoid upending Israel’s ties with Russia.

Zelensky and Netanyahu haven’t met since the latter returned to power in late December. The premier has bucked repeated requests by Zelensky to visit Ukraine, making him one of the only Western leaders who has yet to make the trip. Netanyahu’s predecessors Naftali Bennett and Yair Lapid also avoided meeting Zelensky.

According to the Ynet news site, Netanyahu has cited security concerns in explaining his reluctance to visit, but the reasoning hasn’t sat well with Kyiv, given that US President Joe Biden and other world leaders have managed to travel to the war-torn country without any issues.

Netanyahu aides reached out to Zelensky’s office several weeks ago to set up a meeting on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly, ostensibly identifying the global confab as a more suitable setting. But the premier’s refusal to meet Zelensky in Ukraine apparently led Kyiv to hold off on agreeing to the idea until the two leaders spoke last week, Haaretz said.

According to the Israeli readout from that call, Netanyahu and Zelensky discussed Israeli aid to Ukraine, and the civil alert system Israel is building for Ukraine.

Jews pray at the tomb of Rabbi Nachman of Breslov in the town of Uman, 200 kilometers (125 miles) south of Ukraine’s capital Kyiv, Ukraine, September 25, 2022. (AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky)

The delivery of the system, promised by Foreign Minister Eli Cohen in February, has progressed slower than Kyiv would have liked. It is tentatively slated for initial deployment in October.

Netanyahu also brought up the importance of ensuring that Jewish worshipers heading to Uman for the Rosh Hashanah holiday can reach the city to pray at the grave of Rabbi Nachman of Breslov, a revered Hasidic leader who died in 1810. Tens of thousands of worshipers are expected to make the annual journey to Uman.

Israeli travel warnings against going to Ukraine during the war are still in effect. Netanyahu warned Israelis Sunday that traveling to Uman over Rosh Hashanah was dangerous, even as the government approved financial aid for such pilgrims.

Korniychuk said Tuesday that Israel has sent 14 police officers to Uman to help secure the area for Israeli pilgrims.

Hours before last week’s call, Ukraine blasted Israel for a film deal it signed with Russia the day before, accusing Jerusalem of “collaboration” and aiding Moscow in spreading its propaganda.

Korniychuk warned last month that Kyiv would close its borders to Israeli pilgrims making their way to Uman in retaliation for Israel deporting Ukrainians.

The deportations relate to Ukrainians coming into the country ostensibly as tourists, not as refugees, in cases where Israel suspects they are planning to remain or seek employment illegally.

Kyiv and Jerusalem have also seen tensions over Israel’s policy on supplying aid to Ukraine. Though it has provided Ukraine with humanitarian aid and is also working on the advance warning system for rockets, Israel has refused to supply weaponry to the country, even if only for defensive purposes, such as missile interception. This is seen as a policy largely aimed at avoiding antagonizing Moscow. Russia currently controls much of Syria’s airspace, where Israel requires freedom to operate in order to prevent Iran and its proxies from entrenching themselves.

Lazar Berman contributed to this report

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