“Peace in the Middle East” might get a whole new meaning if Ukraine’s suggestion moves forward to use Jerusalem as the location for peace talks with Russia. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky told a media briefing on Saturday that he proposed using Israel’s capital city to Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett as a place where it would be possible to reach “understandings on ending the war,” according to The Times of Israel. Zelensky, who is Jewish, was quoted as saying he is “not talking about technical meetings but meetings between leaders. I believe Israel can be such a place, especially Jerusalem.”
The Times of Israel report cited anonymous Israeli government sources as telling Israel’s Channel 12 that while it was too early to determine the likelihood of Jerusalem being the site for such talks, Russian President Vladimir Putin was at least considering the prospect.
Zelensky’s comments came the same day as another round of discussions with Bennett, whose efforts to act as mediator to end the conflict has involved multiple phone calls with the Ukrainian leader and even a visit to meet Putin face-to-face in Moscow just over a week ago. According to a press release from Bennett’s office, Saturday night’s call with Zelensky lasted “for over an hour” and “dealt with ways to stop the fighting in Ukraine and the efforts that Israel is making on the matter.”
Zelenksy posted his own summary of the conversation to his Twitter page: “Continued dialogue with PM @naftalibennett. We talked about Russian aggression and the prospects for peace talks. We must stop repressions against civilians: asked to assist in the release of captive mayor of Melitopol and local public figures.”
Israel, which maintains diplomatic ties with Ukraine and Russia and has historic, cultural, and strategic connections with both nations, has found itself playing an unusual role as a mediator in the foreign war. Mikhail Podolyak, an advisor to Zelensky, indicated on Twitter that Bennett is not pressuring Ukraine to concede to Russian demands in the negotiations. He posted that Bennett, “just as other conditional intermediary countries, does NOT offer Ukraine to agree to any demands of the Russian Federation. This is impossible for military & political reasons. On the contrary, Israel urges Russia to assess the events more adequately.”
Zelensky looks likely to get an opportunity make his case directly to Israel’s entire parliament, known as the Knesset, in “the coming days” according to an Israeli press release. Knesset speaker and legislator Mickey Levy spoke last Thursday by phone with Ukrainian Ambassador to Israel Yevgen Korniychuk and restated an invite for the Ukrainian President to hold a Zoom call with the Knesset, with the sides agreeing to schedule a date for the address. According to the Israeli press release, the Ukrainian ambassador thanked Levy for “publicly clarifying and refuting the false information published in the press that allegedly argued that the Speaker had refused President Zelensky’s request to address Members of the Knesset.
“At the end of their conversation, the two agreed to be in continuous and open contact and Knesset Speaker Levy expressed his solidarity with the Ukrainian people at this difficult time.”
While Israel has been a diplomatic partner to both sides in the conflict as they seek to reach an end to the fighting, Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid came out strongly on Sunday against Russian aggression while on a visit to Romania, which borders Ukraine.
“Like Romania, Israel condemns the Russian invasion of Ukraine. It’s without justification, and we call on Russia to stop its firing and attacks, and to resolve this conflict around the negotiating table,” Lapid posted to Twitter.
Lapid, whose party co-leads Israel’s government and is poised to be Prime Minister himself in August 2023 as part of the rotation arrangement with Bennett, continued in a follow-up Tweet by stating that “Israel will do all it can to help reach a peaceful solution. We are working in complete coordination with our ally, the United States, and with our European partners in order to try and end this violent tragedy as quickly as possible.”
And those urgent efforts by Israel just might end up being more than shuttle diplomacy, if Jerusalem ends up as the home for historic peace talks.
(By Joshua Spurlock, www.themideastupdate.com, March 13, 2022)