EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: UN Special Coordinator Mladenov speaks about Palestinian-Israeli conflict



Wed, 11 Jul 2018 - 05:00 GMT


Wed, 11 Jul 2018 - 05:00 GMT

United Nations Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process Nickolay Mladenov – CC via Wikimedia Commons/Ottokars

United Nations Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process Nickolay Mladenov – CC via Wikimedia Commons/Ottokars

CAIRO – 11 July 2018: Only hours before the arrival of Hamas official delegation, which is expected to re-open the reconciliation issue with the Egyptian government after being halted for several months; The United Nations Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process Nickolay Mladenov speaks to Egypt Today in an exclusive interview about Palestinian rival factions reconciliation, Egypt’s role in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, the two-state solution and the “deal of century”.

Mladenov affirmed in his statements, that Cairo government has always been, and still is, a vital and key player amid the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, adding that Rafah border crossing, which Egypt opens regularly to ease the people’s suffering in Gaza, is considered to be a “lifeline” for Palestinians.

He added that The United Nations is doing its best to back Egypt’s efforts to reach complete reconciliation among Palestinian factions. He affirmed that Egypt has done a lot already to reach stability and decrease violence.

During his interview, Mladenov said that Palestine’s continuing inter-factional conflicts are devastating the cause. “Sitting to the negotiations table and reaching a convenient compromise would be the only solution for the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Rivals, Hamas and Fatah must reach a reconciliation to end their continuing conflicts and unify under one legitimate government,” Mladenov stated.

Recognizing East Jerusalem as the Palestinian capital is one of the main principles for achieving peace, according to Mladenov. He assured that there is no Palestinian state without Gaza, and “it [Gaza] should be unified along with the West Bank under one government.”

“The international community role now is to prevent any new wars to break out in the Gaza Strip; however, peace cannot be reached or achieved without the United States.” Mladenov noted. He called Hamas to renounce violence and accept the two-state solution. He affirmed that Fatah as well needs to consider accepting coordinating with the rest of the Palestinian factions.

Mladenov described the two-state solution as the only solution for the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

Egyptian officials, Hamas and Fatah delegations after signing a reconciliation deal in Cairo on Oct. 12, 2017 – AFP photo

He noted the “deal of the century” saying that If Washington wanted to reach what’s called the century’ deal, it should negotiate with the whole international community first.

Mladenov stressed during the interview that accelerating pace of settlement activity in the West Bank will increase violence between both sides.

Egyptian officials, Hamas and Fatah delegations after signing a reconciliation deal in Cairo on Oct. 12, 2017 – AFP photo

According to the United Nations website, Mladenov was appointed as the Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process by former Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on February 2015.

Mladenov used to serve as Iraq’s Special Representative and Head of the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI). He also served as Minister for Foreign Affairs of Bulgaria from 2010 to 2013 and Minister of Defence of Bulgaria from 2009 to 2010. Previously, he was a Member of the European Parliament from 2007 to 2009 and a Member of the Parliament of Bulgaria from 2001 to 2005. Mladenov held several positions in the intergovernmental and non-governmental sectors, including at the World Bank and the European Institute, according o the UN official website.

Mladenov earned a Master of Arts in war studies at King’s College London, in the United Kingdom, and both a master’s and a bachelor’s degree in international relations at the University of National and World Economy of Sofia, in Bulgaria.

Egyptian officials, Hamas and Fatah delegations after signing a reconciliation deal in Cairo on Oct. 12, 2017 – AFP photo

Previous reconciliation was signed in Cairo in October 2017 between Palestinian rival factions Fatah and Hamas in order to achieve more stability within the Palestinian land and authorities.

On September 17, the Hamas movement announced the dissolution of the administrative committee in the Gaza Strip, inviting the Government of National Reconciliation to assume its duties and hold general elections. The movement affirmed it would comply with the Social Reconciliation Accord signed in 2011.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said that there is no country as vital to the Palestinian cause as Egypt due to its historical and political position in the region. “Egypt has an opinion, a position and an interest in the Palestinian cause,” said Abbas.

Egyptian officials, Hamas and Fatah delegations after signing a reconciliation deal in Cairo on Oct. 12, 2017 – AFP photo

Tensions however; rose following a failed assassination attempt of Palestinian Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah on March 13. In an official statement that followed shortly, Egypt’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs strongly condemned targeting Hamdallah’s convoy.

And here is Egypt Today’s full interview with Nickolay Mladenov:

We would like to know the reason behind your visit to Cairo?

I am here to meet with our Egyptian counterparts to discuss the situation in Gaza, which is very worrying, because the tension there is rising, and the United Nations needs to do everything that it can to support the efforts that Egypt has [done] to do reconciliation between Palestinian political parties.

We have had very good meetings—it is not my first time here, I come here very often—and I think soon we will see the revival of efforts to bring Fatah and Hamas back to the table and to bring the legitimate Palestinian authority back in control of Gaza.

You know that the relationship between the Palestinian authority and the United States has been deteriorating since Trump declared Jerusalem as the capital of Israel; what is the vision that is required to solve the United States to get the Palestinian side back on the table?

The United Nations has been very clear that the only way to resolve the conflict is if we have the Palestinians and the Israelis return back to the table of negotiations, and the negotiations are based on what are the legitimate parameters for resolving the conflict, which means that we have to have two states as the outcomes of the negotiations: A Palestinian state and an Israeli state, living side by side on the basis of the relevant resolutions of the United Nations with East Jerusalem being the capital of the Palestinian state. This is the only basis to move forward. I hope that with time, everyone, including our American friends, will understand that any proposal to bring the parties back to the table must be based on these parameters. In the meanwhile, what we hope to see is a re-engagement, by the United States, particularly, in supporting the Palestinian people at a time when the Palestinian people face many difficulties across the board. Very visibly in Gaza with the current situation there where

we have political security and economic difficulties; in the west bank, where the economic situation is also complicated; and the Palestinian refugees who live in the camps face even more hardships with the threats of the reduction of financing. I hope that we receive more focused international efforts to bring both sides back to the table, with a stronger arrangement here by Egypt.

What are the concessions that Donald Trump’s Administration needs to get back the Palestinians on the table?

The issues that have, many things have happened since the decision to move the embassy to Jerusalem, and all of these decisions have had consequences on the relationship between the Americans and the Palestinians; a particular emphases is the financial support, which has been stopped by the Americans, substantially reduced; also, the suspension of other persistence programs for the Palestinian people, which I hope can be revived. So, there is a way to bring the sides back together but that must be on the basis on what is the legitimate parameters of how to resolve the conflict, and what is the consensus of the rest of the international community. So, I hope that soon, we will see that return.

There are so many parties that are involved in this peace process, and Mr. John Kerry has made a lot of efforts during his time as the United States Secretary of State; do you think that someone like Jared Kushner can prolong the process?

I think that everyone has a role to play. Everyone has a role to play, not just in America, but also in Europe and the rest of the Arab world, to help the two sides come back to the negotiating table, particularly now when we need to see the conditions on the ground changing to make negotiations meaningful.

Let me explain what I mean by conditions on the ground: We have a situation where in the West Bank, Israel continues to expand its settlement and this is something that the international community has been very critical of.

But the expansions have accelerated.

Exactly! The expansions have continued but it is not just settlements, it is the denial of opportunities for Palestinians to develop in area C, which is under Israel’s control, and most worryingly, in the last few days what we have been seeing in places like Khan El-Ahmar, we have demolitions of Palestinian-owned structures. So, these three processes are changing the reality of the situation on the West Bank; they need to change.

We also need to focus on the question of violence.

Violence from which side?

Violence from all sides. As much as the expansion of settlements takes away the land; violence and attacks take away the trust of the people. The third aspect, which I think, particularly today, is very important, is the situation in Gaza, which I keep going back to because for the past 10 years the legitimate Palestinian government has not been in control of Gaza, and it is very important, if negotiations are to be meaningful, that the control of the legitimate authority, and President Abbas and the government of the international consensus, is restored to Gaza. If we are able to focus on restoring that control on the issue of land in the West Bank with the building of settlements and expansion and the issue or rebuilding trust on both sides, then the negotiations will be meaningful.

But do you think that a peace process is possible without Hamas on the negotiation table?

I do not think that there is a real negotiation possible without Gaza because you cannot have a Palestinian state without Gaza and you cannot have a Palestinian state only in Gaza. So Gaza and the West Bank need to be reunited under one government again. That means that Fatah, Hamas and the Palestinian fractions need to be able to find a way to resolve their differences and return back to the legitimate framework of the Palestinian National Leadership. All parties and all factions need to play a role in that, but that is going to be a difficult process, but one that Egypt, since October of last year, started leading, it is a very important step in this reconciliation. For a few months this effort was stalled, but I hope now that, literally in the next few days and weeks, this effort will be revived because it is critical to the future of the Palestinian cause.

How do you see the Egyptian role?

I think Egypt has played a very positive role, particularly over the past few months because of two particular issues.

One is the Rafah crossing, which is critical for providing movement of Palestinians in Gaza, and this has provided a lifeline to the people of Gaza because they face very complicated conditions because of the closure on the Israeli side; they have very few movement and very few goods allowed. This is the first important effort by Egypt.

The second important effort is the reconciliation process because that is what Egypt has recognized very clearly that after ten years of division between Gaza and the West Bank, you have to have a step-by-step approach to returning unity again. The goal must remain that Gaza and the West Bank are united under one government, one legal system, that only the government controls weapons, no weapons beyond the control of the authorities. But it has to be a step-by-step approach.

What is your project in Gaza to ease the situation?

This is the immediate reason I am here in Cairo today; I am here to discuss with Egypt our initiatives related to Gaza because we are worried that the economic situation in Gaza is deteriorating very rapidly. People have no money, no jobs, drinking water is scarce, the hospital system is under a lot of pressure, electricity is down for people to about three hours per day, people are living in very very bad conditions. We have to look at the economic aspect of the situation, but we also have to acknowledge that there is a political aspect, which is unity, and we need to help the recovery of people but we also need to assist in the recovery of the political crisis. One way of doing that is to focus on immediate projects that will help electricity, water, jobs creation in Gaza and through those projects support reconciliation and support the efforts by Egypt.

I think we have a good plan that has been consulted with everyone, with the Palestinian authority, with Israel, with Egypt, with the region. And it would give us, collectively, the ability to prevent another way in Gaza. To me, the most important task today, the most immediate task today, is to prevent another war because there are Palestinians in Gaza, who have lived through three conflicts in the last ten years, and they should not be allowed to have another devastating conflict.

Will you cooperate with Hamas in this project?

Our partner is the legitimate Palestinian government. We talked to all factions and all players in the region and internationally who can contribute to this, but our legitimate partner is the government.

Some American newspapers talk about a negative attitude from some Arab countries like Saudi Arabia and Qatar, what are your comments on this?

I think there is a lot of media speculation out there. What I have found is that everybody has been extremely helpful and cooperative until now because the region as a whole is tired of conflict. There are too many wars, too many casualties, and nobody wants to see another explosion in Gaza.

The most important countries are the ones that are immediately next door, your own country, the Israeli’s because they have a special responsibility as the occupying power, the Palestinians, Jordan, certainly, but until now I have found everyone to be very very cooperative.

Donald Trump has a deal that is called ‘The deal of the century’ for Palestine, what is your thoughts about it?

Everybody is waiting for that deal. My view is that if the Americans put forward a proposal recognizes the goal of having two states, that addressed the questions of settlements, security, Jerusalem, refugees, that goes back to the basic parameters of what the international community has agreed on, they have an opportunity. But these are the parameters without which you cannot resolve the conflict.

So, if you want to make the deal of the century, you need to get back to the original parameters in the international consensus.

Do you see another solution? Does anyone see another solution?

Both the Palestinians and for the Israelis, both want to live in their own states, no one wants to be the minority in the state of the other. The only way to do this, is to separate and to find the necessary arrangements on economy, security, economy, trade, borders, on all the finest issues that need to be addressed. But I do not think that there is any other solution other than two-state solution that legitimately addresses the national aspirations, if you want, and the historic rights of both nations.

Last week Foreign Policy and American experts overtime have spoken about Israeli-Palestinian consideration, how do you find such solution?

It is not for me to accept it or not or for foreign writers to comment on it. It is for the people themselves.

I believe, I mean, I live in Jerusalem, and I interact with Palestinians on a daily basis, I have not been convinced that there is another option except two states.

In 2016, the United Nations, together with our American, Russia and European partners, published a report, which outlines all the risks on the ground for this two-state solution. There are many many risks and many dangers but the political concept remains.

What are the risks?

The land, under the new expansion, the demolitions, and the violence that undermines trust in Gaza. There are a lot of specific conditions on the ground that needs to change and they are not only negative things [that need to change], there are also some positive things that need to happen.

The economy needs to be stimulated and strengthened because the economy cannot replace the political goal of statehood but it is important for people to see a prospective for their future away from violence and towards stability, prosperity and controlling their own fate. So, there are a lot f things that need to happen on the ground and a lot of negative trends that need to be stopped and this is what we focus on now on a daily basis.

How has the internal Palestinian division affected the development of the Palestinian cause?

I think the internal Palestinian division is devastating t the Palestinian cause because the very fact that for the past decade the Palestinians in Gaza and the Palestinians in the West Bank and in East Jerusalem have lived a very different life has separated whole generations.

If you look at people who are 20 years old in Gaza, most likely they have never visited the West Bank because in their life they have been living under Israeli closures and have been separated from their national authorities and have lived under different legal systems in very difficult conditions, and the longer that this division continues, they more poisonous it is for the Palestinian national cause, and this is why we welcome so much Egypt’s efforts to solve this cause and to find a way out of it, and to reach agreements on reconciliation.

This will be welcomed by everyone on the international community and this has been stated many times and of course, Hamas needs to acknowledge that part of this problem is this division is not just giving up control of Gaza but also accepting the conditions that have been put forward by the PLO and by the international community; renouncing violence accepting agreements between Palestinians and the Israelis, accepting a two-state solution as a way to move forward. And Fatah in itself also needs to accept that there needs to be a partnership between all Palestinian fractions to agree on an agreement.

You sat a few weeks ago with Ismail Haniyeh to discuss the release of Israeli soldiers in exchange for Palestinian prisoners. Can you give us details about this?

There are at least two Israeli civilians who are in Gaza and there are bodies of soldiers that are being held, and the two needs to be resolved because it is a humanitarian issue. How it is resolved and the talks that take place is not something that I want to discuss at this point, however, it is an issue that needs to be resolved because it is a humanitarian case. Of course, for me, the most immediate concern, as I said in the beginning, is to prevent another war because if there is another war and another conflict, thousands of people will be killed and thousands of families will be saddened under this situation; we have to make sure that this does not happen again, and this is for the benefit for both Palestinians and Israelis.

What is your impression about President Abdel Fatah al-Sisi’s efforts in Gaza?

I think Egypt has done a lot to assist the situation and the crisis both through opening of the Rafah crossing on the humanitarian side but also through the political side through efforts of reconciliation. These efforts have been, I think, very much appreciated by the members of the international community. We will continue to work very closely with Egypt to make sure that these efforts succeed because if these efforts succeed, this is good, not just for the Egyptian people in terms of security, but also it is good for the Palestinians, it is good for the Israelis, it is good for the entire region.

Trump has regularly attacked organizations; do you think he will want to work closely with the quartet?

Well, the United States is a member of the quartet: Russia, the European Union, the United States and the UN, and we continue to work with them on a daily basis, discussing with them the situation in Gaza and the political issues as they emerge.

Of course, now, it is a little more complicated after the issues with Jerusalem but this dialogue continues; it has not stopped.

Do you think Trump’s decision regarding Jerusalem will have a negative effect of the peace process?

I think that the peace process is at its lowest point right now in many years; I would not say every, but in many years. And there are some very serious risks that we cannot revive it effectively. I hope that we can by changing the reality on the ground because if you bring together Palestinian and Israeli leaders without the appropriate conditions as settlements expand, violence continues and the divisions in Gaza continue, then we will be creating a false sense of hope for people, and I think everybody in this part of the world understands very well that if you create a sense of hope and then you take that away, usually what happens is that violence erupts after that. So, we need to be very, very, very careful.

If you look at the situation now, and the unilateral actions, negative steps of the ground, all of this has damaged the peace process and it will be very difficult to revive it.

Trump has declined assisting refugees, what are your comments on his decision to reduce humanitarian funds to ease the suffering of Palestinians?

The United States was the biggest donor for many years, decades, over $300 million every year, now they have reduced it to $60 million. This has left a huge financing problem, which they have tried to address in many ways, including through a conference in New York just a few days ago.

There are some very serious risks to the hospitals, to the services, to the projects that they do. I think that everyone who looks at the UNRWA today understands that UNRWA is part of this entire region, because de-stabilizing UNRWA not only destabilizes Gaza and the West Bank, it also destabilizes Lebanon, it has an effect on Jordon, and through there, it impacts the whole region. So, the dangers that UNRWA faces today are really significant and I cannot underline that enough. We are doing everything that we can to find adequate financing for them because to many Palestinians UNRWA is not just the agency that provides school, hospitals, food, it is the symbol of the right of return for the refugees; so it has also political implications of this sense. Today, for us, this is one of the biggest worries.

How do you explain what Donald Trump does all the time towards the United Nations?

This is clearly the direction of his Administration and the policies that his Administration has taken. But form my experience, dealing with this issue here—the Palestinian conflict, if you look elsewhere in the Middle East, we continue to see constant engagement with the Americans, again, at different levels because of some of the position that they have taken but we continue to engage at many levels.

This may also mean that if the Americans reduce their finance, others need to step up and give more financing. For example, we have seen Saudi Arabia, the United Arab of Emirates, Qatar and Kuwait increase their contributions to UNRWA. They each gave about $50 million for this year; in total, about $150-200 million was raised from the Gulf to help cover the expenses. The European Union also needs to come up with more funding. Not just the European Union, also countries within the European Union need to come up with more money.We have to adjust to the situation today.

Would you say that under the Trump Administration, the U.S.’s role in the process would no longer be needed?

I really do not think that you can have a peace process and engagement without the Americans. You cannot have it only with the Americans, but you cannot have it without the Americans. To me, what remains the best format, is the United States, the European Union, the Russians and the UN, with a stronger role for the Arab countries, Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and others in the region—stronger engagement; this is the format that will help to bring both sides to negotiations. I do not think that this can be done by one country; any one individually.

How many generations will it take to reach a deal?

It has taken many generations until now for this conflict to get to this stage; so, it will not be an easy process. We need the people to change their way of thinking: How they think, how they approach the challenges of the day, we need to see more focus on supporting moderate political forces because the threat from radical political forces and radical ideologies is everywhere today. We need to see people focus more on practical stuff because to only sit back and say, because there is no peace process we cannot do anything perpetuates the situation. Many things that can be done, even in the absence of a political perspective, for the situation to be resolved. This is why I keep going back to the issue of conditions on the ground because the way I see it, they do not have security, they do not know how to plan their lives, they see their land disappear.

So, you rule out that Donald Trump will not reach a deal?

No, I do not know that. I do not rule that out. On the contrary, I think that America re-engaging actively and constructively can make it possible.

It does not need to take many generations because we all know the parameter of what needs to be done and we all know what needs to happen on the ground, it is a matter of somebody doing it.

Do you think we are close to reaching a successful two-state solution deal?

No, I said exactly the opposite; there is no peace process.

Is the Israeli government refusing the peace process?

No, I think everybody wants peace in the Middle East, except everybody has a different idea of how to get there. I do not think that you will find anybody there, anybody at all—on the right or on the left—that does not want to find a solution. They may have different ideas and different ideologies on how to get to it but there is a general agreement that we have to have peace like the one between Israel and Egypt that has lasted for so many years.

What the worry is, is that Palestinians—the weaker side of this equation, if they feel that the political perspective for their state is not there; if people say things like, ‘well, no, there will be no state solution,’ when they see the land disappearing, when they see divisions continuing, then they lose trust in the process. And because they are the weaker side, when they lose trust, they become much more vulnerably, and this is what worries me.

But I think both, on the Israeli and Palestinian sides of the region; everybody wants to find a way to peace. You just have to find the leadership and to have the vision of how to return back to the questions that matter.

Are we still many years away from a two-state solution?

If things continue the same way that they are now, then yes.



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