During a phone conversation with Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett on Friday morning, Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky asked that Jerusalem serve as a mediator with Russia to help resolve the military conflict between the countries.
The request was first reported by Israel’s Kan news, and then confirmed to The New York Times by Ukraine’s Ambassador to Israel Yevgen Korniychuk and an unnamed Israeli official.
Korniychuk told the Times: “We do believe that Israel is the only democratic state in the world that has great relations with both Ukraine and Russia.” He added that Bennett did not give an immediate answer.
“They didn’t say no,” he said. “They are trying to figure out where they are in this chess play.”
He noted that Ukrainian officials would be more comfortable holding such talks in Jerusalem than in Russia’s ally nation Belarus, where Moscow had proposed to negotiate. Israel, Korniychuk said, is seen as a more neutral party.
According to Kan, Zelensky told Bennett: “We want the negotiations to take place in Jerusalem. We think that Israel is the country that could hold such negotiations in the middle of the war.”
The Kan report, relying on unnamed sources familiar with the call, did not say what Bennett’s response was, and the Prime Minister’s Office declined to comment.
On Friday, tentative discussions on an offer by Zelensky to designate Ukraine a non-aligned country appeared to break down over the proposed venue for the talks.
The Kremlin had said President Vladimir Putin was ready to send a delegation to Belarus for talks to discuss the proposal that suggests Zelensky would be willing to negotiate dropping his country’s bid to join NATO.
But Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Ukrainian officials reversed course and said they were unwilling to travel to Minsk for talks, proposing Warsaw as a venue instead. He said the Ukrainians then cut off communication.
Before the invasion, the West had rejected Russia’s demand to keep Ukraine out of NATO. Putin used the refusal to justify the invasion, claiming that the West left him no other choice.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov accused Zelensky of “simply lying” about the non-alignment offer, saying the president “missed the opportunity” to discuss Ukraine’s neutral status when Putin initially proposed it.
According to a readout from Bennett’s office earlier in the day, the premier offered Zelensky to send humanitarian assistance to the embattled nation. The two discussed the fighting in Ukraine, especially around the capital, according to the Prime Minister’s Office.
Bennett told Zelensky that he hopes the war will end soon, and sent a message of support to the Ukrainian people, according to the statement.
Consistent with Bennett’s address on Thursday, the statement from his office did not include any condemnation of Russian actions, nor did it mention Russia by name.
According to Kan, the call was initiated by Zelensky.
Judah Ari Gross and Lazar Berman contributed to this report.