Despite its best efforts to maintain a low profile, Israel has in many ways been thrust into the spotlight of the Russia-Ukraine war.
Channel 12 News reports that Prime Minister Naftali Bennett spoke on the phone for 40 minutes with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Sunday morning. Russian state media reported immediately after that Israel has offered to host and mediate ceasefire talks between Russia and Ukraine.
Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky first asked Bennett to intervene and mediate between the two warring nations when the leaders spoke on Friday. Zelensky wants those talks to take place in Jerusalem, of all places.
“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,” Israel’s Kan public broadcaster quoted Zelensky as telling Bennett.
Ukraine’s Ambassador to Israel Yevgen Korniychuk remarked to The New York Times that “we believe Israel is the only democratic state in the world that has great relations with both Ukraine and Russia.”
Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked further confirmed the request from Zelesnky in a Channel 12 interview, but said she had to be careful not to reveal too many details at this point.
“I’m being very careful. The request was received. And the issue is being handled, and there’s no need to say more,” said Shaked.
Also on Saturday, Knesset Speaker Mickey Levy phoned his Ukrainian counterpart Ruslan Oleksiyovych Stefanchuk, who reiterated the request that Israel organize, host and mediate ceasefire talks between Russia and Ukraine.
Washington also sought to draw Israel out from the shadows by publicly asking Jerusalem to sign its resolution condemning Russia in the UN Security Council over the weekend. Eager to maintain the semblance of neutrality, Israel refused.
Israel has strong and strategically-important relations with both Russia and Ukraine, and both countries host large Jewish populations. For these reasons and others Israel has been working hard to not be seen as taking sides in this conflict. To better understand the Jewish state’s tricky position, read: Ukraine and Russia – Israel’s Position on the Matter