What happened: Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and Russian President Vladimir Putin spoke for an hour and a half on Monday to address efforts to reach a cease-fire in Ukraine and Israel's humanitarian aid to Ukraine.
- The Russian readout from the phone call said Bennett had initiated the conversation and that he had updated President Putin on his most recent talks with several heads of state on the Ukrainian crisis. In turn, Putin gave his assessments of the negotiations between Russian and Ukrainian representatives, which are being held these days via videoconference.
- The leaders also exchanged views on the special operation to defend the republics in Donbass. In this context, Putin reportedly claimed that the Ukrainian military had used a cluster munition in an attack at Donetsk. The missile resulted in numerous civilian casualties.
- After speaking with Putin, Bennett spoke again with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.
- On Monday, the Israeli cabinet approved the plan presented by Bennett, Foreign Minister Yair Lapid and Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz to establish an Israeli field hospital in western Ukraine.
- Bennett said: "Establishing a field hospital there, in Ukraine, is an initiative that not many countries are capable of taking on themselves. The State of Israel has this capability and we are getting underway. This is important and I am pleased that we – the Health Ministry and the Foreign Ministry, with the assistance of the Finance Ministry – are leading it."
- Meanwhile, Lapid spoke yesterday with his Ukrainian counterpart, Dmytro Kuleba. The Ukrainian Foreign Minister said on Twitter that Lapid "assured me Israel won’t be the route for Russia to bypass sanctions," adding that he was "grateful for Israel’s mediation efforts and humanitarian aid".
Context: Despite coming under criticism abroad, Bennett continues to try and mediate between Russia and Ukraine.
- Yesterday US Ambassador to Israel Tom Nides said Bennett’s mediation efforts have support from the US. He told the US-based Peace Now NGO that Bennett "has not made a move" on Ukraine "without talking to the White House". He added that the Israelis "have done everything we've asked them to do" regarding Russia.
- As well as mediation efforts, the Israeli government is stepping up preparations to absorb many more Ukrainian immigrants and refugees.
The plan includes:
- Preparation for short-term and long-term housing and rent assistance
- Turning old IDF bases in housing
- Evaluating steps to increase the supply in the housing market and the necessary legislative amendments
- Helping municipalities integrate new immigrants from Ukraine in education, social services, and community cohesion
- The government has also announced that no restrictions would be imposed for the time being on Ukrainian war refugees arriving in Israel. Originally, only 5,000 were permitted into Israel, but refugees with a relative in Israel will now not be counted as part of the quota. They will receive a temporary visa for a period of three months and if the fighting is still not over by then, they will also be able to work in Israel after that point.
- The 20,000 Ukrainian citizens who the government believes were in Israel before the war illegally can also remain temporarily and will not be deported.
- A poll reported by Maariv found that the Israeli public overwhelmingly supports unfettered admission of Ukrainian war refugees.
- The field hospital will operate for a month. The operation is being overseen by the Foreign Ministry and the Health Ministry together with Sheba Hospital and a delegation of medical personnel from the healthcare establishment. The cost of setting up and operating the hospital will be approximately £5m.
- Following Lapid’s announcement on sanctions, the Foreign Ministry is working with the Bank of Israel, the Finance Ministry, the Energy Ministry, the Economy Ministry, the Airports Authority and others on any new measures to ensure that Russian individuals and banks don’t use Israel as a means to bypass Western sanctions.
- One example is that Russians won’t be able to park their private jets in Israel indefinitely to keep them from being seized elsewhere.
Looking ahead: Ukrainian President Zelensky is reportedly due to speak to Israeli MKs this Sunday evening.
- However, Russia’s ambassador to Israel has asked for an “urgent meeting” with Knesset Speaker Mickey Levy to likely protest against it.
- The Aliya and Integration Ministry will launch a public information campaign in the next several days that will call on the public to host families of new immigrants from Ukraine.