U.S. Ambassador to Israel Thomas Nides implied that the White House is calling the shots in Israel’s mediation efforts between Russia and Ukraine.
In a remote lecture to Americans arranged by the Israeli organization, Peace Now, Nides said on Tuesday that he had “no complaints” about Prime Minister Naftali Bennett as a mediator and said the Israeli leader has coordinated all of his moves with the U.S.
Bennett took no action “without talking to the White House” first, Nides was quoted by Arutz Sheva as saying, adding that the Israelis have done everything the Americans asked them to do about Russia.
The British Financial Times reported on Wednesday that Bennett has been the “primary international mediator” during the talks, citing three people familiar with the matter. The article contains the details of a 15-point ceasefire proposal that involves Ukraine giving up its aspiration to join the U.S.-led NATO military alliance in exchange for a ceasefire, Russian withdrawal and security promises.
Bennett has held several back-to-back conversations with both Russian President Vladimir Putin and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy in recent weeks. The last conversations took place on Monday.
The call with Putin lasted for about an hour and a half, during which the two leaders discussed efforts to reach a ceasefire in Ukraine, as well as allowing access to Israeli humanitarian aid to enter the war-torn country, the Times of Israel reported. Bennett met with Putin on March 5 in Moscow, in a secret trip that received the blessing of the White House.
Bennett has also spoken with Zelenskyy multiple times since the outset of the Russian invasion. However, they have not met face-to-face. Zelenskyy is expected to deliver a speech to the Israeli parliament, the Knesset, via video on Sunday evening.
In further remarks, Nides expressed fury over West Bank settlement growth and stressed that “the final status of Jerusalem would have to be decided by the parties.”
“We can’t have the Israelis doing settlement growth in east Jerusalem or the West Bank. I’m a bit of a nag on this, including the idea of settlement growth – which infuriates me, when they do things – just infuriates the situation, both in east Jerusalem and the West Bank,” Nides said.
The ambassador reiterated the Biden administration’s ambition to reopen the East Jerusalem Consulate for Palestinian Affairs that was shuttered under the Trump administration, but noted that Israel has “aggressively opposed it.”
Israel is one of the few countries that maintains good working ties with both Ukraine and Russia.
Israel’s attempt to take the middle ground has caused friction on all sides for Jerusalem, as Ukraine and the U.S. have pushed Israel for more support.
Bennett has defended his decision to not send arms or any other military aid to Ukraine in order to maintain his status as a neutral broker.
Israel is wary of angering Russia due the Kremlin’s presence in Syria, where Israel carries out security operations against Iran-linked forces, in coordination with Russia.
Tal Heinrich is a senior correspondent for both ALL ISRAEL NEWS and ALL ARAB NEWS. She is currently based in New York City. Tal also provides reports and analysis for Israeli Hebrew media Channel 14 News.