Bennett offered Zelensky to go to Kyiv if talks with Moscow advance

Zelensky's office invited Bennett to visit as part of his ceasefire mediation efforts • Shin Bet has been preparing a security plan

 Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett speaks at the annual ceremony for soldiers whose burial places are unknown, at the National Hall of Remembrance, Mount Herzl, Jerusalem, March 10, 2022. (photo credit: ALEX KOLOMOISKY/POOL)
Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett speaks at the annual ceremony for soldiers whose burial places are unknown, at the National Hall of Remembrance, Mount Herzl, Jerusalem, March 10, 2022.
(photo credit: ALEX KOLOMOISKY/POOL)

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett expressed willingness to visit Kyiv if there are advances in the talks with Moscow to end the war, an Israeli diplomatic source confirmed Monday.

Zelensky’s office invited Bennett to visit as part of his ceasefire mediation efforts between Ukraine and Russia.

The Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) has been preparing a security plan for Bennett to visit Kyiv on short notice amid Russian attacks on Ukraine.

Bennett does not want to go only for a photo opportunity, but he will go if he thinks it can help move the sides toward ending the war, Ynet reported.

Bennett met with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow on March 5 as part of his mediation efforts.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky addresses Israeli Knesset, public, in this image from Tel Aviv's Habima Square, March 20, 2022. (credit: NOAM MOSKOVITZ/KNESSET)Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky addresses Israeli Knesset, public, in this image from Tel Aviv's Habima Square, March 20, 2022. (credit: NOAM MOSKOVITZ/KNESSET)

“In recent weeks, there were some advances between [Ukraine and Russia], but the gaps in a number of fundamental topics are big,” Bennett said Monday.

The Russians are no longer trying to depose Zelensky and fully demilitarize Ukraine, while Ukraine has backed down from trying to join NATO, he said.

“We are trying to mediate together with our friends in the world, but there is a long way ahead,” Bennett said at a conference sponsored by Yediot Aharonot.

“We positioned Israel in a way that allows us continuous communications with both sides that is honest and open and can bring achievements” in the mediation, he said.

On Sunday, Zelensky harshly criticized the mediation efforts in a speech to the Knesset, but hours later, he expressed appreciation for them.

In his videoconference address to the Knesset, Zelensky compared Ukraine’s plight to the Holocaust, called for Israel to send arms to his country and to sanction Russia and criticized “mediation without choosing a side.”

“Apathy kills; calculations kill,” he said. “You can mediate between countries but not between good and evil.”

Hours later, in a video message on his Telegram channel, Zelensky said: “Of course, Israel has its interests, strategy to protect its citizens. We understand all of it.”

“The prime minister of Israel, Mr. Bennett, is trying to find a way of holding talks, and we are grateful for this,” he said. “We are grateful for his efforts so that sooner or later we will begin to have talks with Russia, possibly in Jerusalem. That’s the right place to find peace, if possible.”

Israelis should be proud of their country’s generosity to Ukraine, Bennett said Monday, defending Jerusalem’s approach.

“Israel has been stretching out its hand to aid in the crisis in Ukraine for several weeks, from the first minute, in different, varied channels,” he said. “We are managing this unfortunate crisis sensitively, generously and responsibly, while balancing the different considerations, and they are complex.”

Bennett made the remarks at a ceremony sending off the staff of an Israeli field hospital, the first such facility any country has built in Ukraine.

“Today, I want to say clearly: Israel and the Israeli public can be proud of the aid and contribution of the State of Israel to the citizens of Ukraine,” he said. “Be proud of the actions Israel has taken... there are not many countries who have done as much.”

Asked at the Yediot Aharonot conference about Zelensky comparing the war to the Holocaust, saying that Russia is planning a “final solution” for Ukraine, which was widely criticized in Israel, Bennett refrained from criticizing the Ukrainian president, saying, “He is a leader fighting for the life of his country.”

“I personally believe that you cannot compare the Holocaust to anything,” he said. “It is a unique event in the history of the world – the industrial killing of a nation in gas chambers.”

Israel is not giving Ukraine an Iron Dome battery, Bennett said, adding that he is balancing “generosity and sensitivity to the great distress of the Ukrainian people together with... my responsibility to the existence of the State of Israel and its citizens.”

Regarding whether Putin is insane or has Parkinson’s disease, as some have theorized, Bennett said he saw no indication of either in their meeting.

Foreign Minister Yair Lapid also responded to Zelensky’s criticism by touting Israel’s humanitarian aid to Ukraine.

Israelis “must know that Israel is not standing silent,” he said at the ceremony for the field hospital’s staff. “In a place where there is suffering and horror, we will stretch out a comforting hand and do everything to help.”

“We are sending with this hospital not only the best medical staff in the world, but our hearts, our support and our identification,” Lapid said. “This is a cruel and unnecessary war, and it must stop.”

The war in Ukraine is a reminder to Israel “that we must always be strong and be able to defend ourselves at any moment and under any conditions,” he added.

Israel began constructing the “Shining Star” field hospital in Mostyska, Ukraine, over the weekend. It is expected to open on Tuesday with 60 staff members from Sheba Medical Center and Schneider Children’s Hospital. The field hospital, which includes a pediatric ward, a maternity ward, an emergency room, telemedicine facility and more, was funded by the Health and Foreign ministries, along with the Schusterman Family Foundation and the Joint Distribution Committee.