The Real Story behind Naftali Bennett’s Trip to Moscow

On March 5, the Israeli prime minister Naftali Bennett traveled to Russia, where he had a several-hours-long meeting with Vladimir Putin. That the trip took place on Shabbat—Bennett is an Orthodox Jews—stressed its significance. Some criticized Jerusalem for making an apparent overture to the Kremlin just two weeks after it launched its massive military offensive into Ukraine, but it later became clear that Volodymyr Zelensky had himself requested Israeli mediation. Based on a series of interviews, Moav Vardi explains the strategic logic behind this carefully planned diplomatic initiative:

Any negotiation between Russia and Ukraine is, in essence, a negotiation between Russia and the United States. . . . Major Western leaders like France’s President Emmanuel Macron and Germany’s Chancellor Olaf Scholz, who met with Putin at the Kremlin in the days before the war, were not seen by Russia as potential mediators, but as parties adverse in interests.

Before [Bennett embarked] on this mission, it was imperative that key Western leaders bless [the] initiative. And they did. His meeting with Putin was coordinated with the U.S., France, and Germany before he even took off for Moscow.

At the time that Bennett intervened, the Russians and Ukrainians had already been at the negotiating table in Belarus for five days. But there was a hitch. Those negotiations were revealed to be a bit of a charade. The Russian representatives feared Putin and were unwilling to suggest anything that diverged from Moscow’s official line. To do so meant risking being accused by “the state” of weakness and endangering Russian interests.

For the same reasons, Putin’s emissaries did not transmit Ukrainian positions to their boss, fearing his reaction upon hearing them. The only way to have a real exchange of views was through a direct conversation between a Western leader and Putin. Enter Naftali Bennett.

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Read more at State of Tel Aviv

More about: Israel diplomacy, Naftali Bennett, U.S. Foreign policy, War in Ukraine

Gaza’s Quiet Dissenters

Last year, the Dubai-based television channel Al-Arabiya, the Times of Israel, and several other media organizations worked together to conduct numerous interviews with residents of the Gaza Strip, taking great pains to protect their identities. The result is a video series titled Whispers in Gaza, which presents a picture of life under Hamas’s tyranny unlike anything that can be found in the press. Jeff Jacoby writes:

Through official intimidation or social pressure, Gazans may face intense pressure to show support for Hamas and its murderous policies. So when Hamas organizes gaudy street revels to celebrate a terrorist attack—like the fireworks and sweets it arranged after a gunman murdered seven Israelis outside a Jerusalem synagogue Friday night—it can be a challenge to remember that there are many Palestinians who don’t rejoice at the murder of innocent Jews.

In one [interview], “Fatima” describes the persecution endured by her brother, a humble vegetable seller, after he refused to pay protection money to Hamas. The police arrested him on a trumped-up drug charge and locked him in prison. “They beat him repeatedly to make him confess to things he had nothing to do with,” she says. Then they threatened to kill him. Eventually he fled the country, leaving behind a family devastated by his absence.

For those of us who detest Hamas no less than for those who defend it, it is powerful to hear the voices of Palestinians like “Layla,” who is sickened by the constant exaltation of war and “resistance” in the Palestinian media. “If you’re a Gazan citizen who opposes war and says, ‘I don’t want war,’ you’re branded a traitor,” she tells her interviewer. “It’s forbidden to say you don’t want war.” So people keep quiet, she explains, for fear of being tarred as disloyal.

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Read more at Boston Globe

More about: Gaza Strip, Hamas, Palestinian dissidents, Palestinian public opinion