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Ex-Israeli PM: West thwarted peace deal

By HENG WEILI in New York | CHINA DAILY | Updated: 2023-02-08 09:35

A former prime minister of Israel contended in a recent interview that Western countries supporting Ukraine in its military conflict with Russia thwarted an attempt at peace talks.

Former Israeli prime minister Naftali Bennett made the assertion to Israel's Channel 12.

Bennett said his efforts as a negotiator between Moscow and Kyiv shortly after the outset of the conflict were almost a success, with both countries agreeing to concessions and a call for a truce.

But he said it did not happen because Ukraine's Western backers stopped it.

"I think there was a legitimate decision by the West to keep striking (Russian President Vladimir) Putin," Bennett said. "I mean the more aggressive approach. Basically, yes. They blocked it."

Bennett further revealed that his mediation in March, the month after the conflict started, was closely coordinated with the United States, France and Germany. However, after the conflict broke out, there was no unified approach how to address it.

" (Former British PM) Boris Johnson adopted the aggressive line; (German Chancellor Olaf) Scholz and (French President Emmanuel) Macron were more pragmatic, and (US President Joe) Biden was both," Bennett said.

'Another confession'

Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova wrote on Telegram that it was "another confession" that the West was not interested in peace in Ukraine.

Bennett also said he secured a pledge from Putin that he was "not going to kill Zelensky", who reportedly feared for his life.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov has refused to confirm or deny the exchange about Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, state news network RT reported on Monday. Peskov said Moscow would not reveal details about sensitive conversations with foreign leaders.

Peskov confirmed that Putin and Bennett held "a very intensive dialogue" and "frequently communicated" during Bennett's tenure as PM.

"I will neither refute nor confirm what Mr Bennett said," Peskov said.

Bennett said in the interview that the Russian leader was ready to retract his demand for the demilitarization of Ukraine, while Zelensky promised to forgo his aspirations to join the NATO alliance.

This week, Kyiv has formulated a list of demands it wants to be fulfilled by Israeli Foreign Minister Eli Cohen ahead of an expected visit to Ukraine, The Times of Israel reported on Monday.

But Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's government could be put into a position of having to navigate between the two countries, The Times of Israel reported.

Bennett said it was in Israel's interest not to pick a side in the conflict.

Agencies contributed to this story.

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