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UN Special Coordinator hails Russia’s constructive role in Middle East settlement

Mladenov said he had visited Moscow at the invitation of Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov as part of regular consultations with Russia
UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process Nickolay Mladenov Mikhail Pochuyev/TASS
UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process Nickolay Mladenov
© Mikhail Pochuyev/TASS

MOSCOW, December 2. /TASS/. UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process Nickolay Mladenov said on Monday he thinks the work with Russia on the Palestinian-Israeli settlement is very constructive.

"I found the work with the Russian Federation very constructive as a member of quartet together with the United States, the European Union and the UN. We are the four parties tasked with working on finding the resolution to the conflict. Particularly important is the fact that we sustain support for international law and for the resolutions that had been adopted," he said in an interview with TASS.

"I value very much the support that we get from the Security Council for our work in Gaza which is right now very much critical," he said. "Russia has always been active in working with all Palestinian factions, supporting unity. And in this context, the discussion about Palestinian elections is very important as well."

Mladenov said he had visited Moscow at the invitation of Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov as part of regular consultations with Russia. The agenda, in his words, included three major topics. "There are three major issues that we needed to discuss today," he noted.

"First is how can we work together to uphold the international consensus of how the Palestinian-Israeli conflict can be resolved on the basis of two-states solution" under UN international resolution or bilateral agreements, he said adding that this international consensus is facing increased challenges. "However it remains the only legitimate and viable way forward the sustainable peace," he stressed.

The second topic, in his words, is the prospects for the Palestinian elections. "Now there is an agreement between Gaza and West Bank to have elections. I hope that early next year there will be elections to the legislative council and then to presidency," he said. "This is very important because Palestinians have had no opportunity to vote since 2006. Hopefully, this will support reconciliation process and unity between West bank and Gaza."

And last but not least, he said, it is the topic of joint work in Gaza to prevent crisis situations. "Russia has been very supportive about working in the UN Security Council. Certainly, it is important because the region as a whole has so many different points of tension and conflict right now," he explained. "And there is no need for another one to emerge on the map.".

Middle East Quartet's role

The Middle East Quartet of Russia, the European Union, the United Nations and the United States remains the only way of legitimate mediation between the Israelis and the Palestinians, and its work must be restarted, Mladenov said.

"Look, I mean I very much believe that this Quartet as such still remains the cornerstone legitimate mechanism for mediating the Israeli-Palestinian conflict," Mladenov stressed. "Unfortunately, for the last four years we had not have meetings on the level of principals because of the changing position of the US," the special coordinator regretted.

He expressed hope, however, "that we will be able to return back to the Quartet format, because it is the only way to legitimately mediate the sides, Israeli and Palestinian, and to revive the negotiations".

He noted that back in 2016, the Quartet prepared a list of moves to be implemented by the Palestinians and the Israelis, as well as by the international community to help settle the situation. Unfortunately, the reality is such that the occupation continues and there is no prospect "towards reviving a two-state outcome".

"Ultimately we tried in the past - and I think it was quite successful - as a Quartet to reach out to the Arab countries, to the Arab League, to the Gulf countries, to Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia in particular," Mladenov went on to say.

"And ultimately I think that Arab countries have a role to play in this process," he said. However, "right now we do not have meetings on the principal level, and we continued meeting on the level of envoys during this period", the diplomat added.

Mladenov noted that at the moment there were no grounds to expect the restart of direct Palestinian-Israeli talks, and work should be concentrated on what can be done in Gaza and on what could be done "to support Palestinians in their own internal election process".

Since, "if we are able to prevent war and bring back unity between Gaza and the West Bank, it will certainly be elements of supporting, helping towards returning to negotiations. It is not going to be enough because there are many, many obstacles and challenges, particularly on the Israeli side, but certainly this will be very helpful," he stressed.

The latest meeting of the Middle East Quartet at the ministerial level took place back in 2016. Since then, it has continued operating at the level of special envoys. The latest attempt to organize direct Palestinian-Israeli talks ended in a failure in 2014.

Israeli settlement construction

The UN official went on to say that Washington’s recognition of Israeli settlement on the West Bank and other decision in support of Israel  would not change the United Nations’ position.

"These settlements remain illegal under international law, and certainly the status Jerusalem is, like settlements and borders, part of packages of final [Palestine] status issues that need to be discussed between the parties," he said, adding that this package had been approved by the United Nations Security Council and General Assembly resolutions.

"So, it is important from our perspective that everyone, including our American friends, return back to this consensus because I think that ultimately if we do not follow the pass of addressing this final status issues one by one, we will not be able to find a sustainable solution to the conflict," he stressed.

"It is not an issue of a one-state solution vs two-state solution. It is a question of one state reality of perpetual occupation, which will always bring violence and discontent and create threats to the security of Israel and for the future of the Palestinians," he went on to say.

He stressed that the solution based on internationally agreed parameters would ultimately lead to the emergence of two viable states that would be able to cooperate with each other. "I think the sooner we return back to that pathway the better because the reality that we have on the ground today is very demoralizing to people," Mladenov noted. "If you look at this from the prospective of an average Palestinian person who lives in West Bank, who has for the last 25 years lived with the promise of statehood, whose president and institutions have been working towards building a state and you take away this prospective, you have very little left."

"Meanwhile we also have seen continuing expansion of Israeli settlements on the ground and no political process that sustains the goal of two-state solution," he said. "And if this reality continues, I am afraid the demoralization will turn into anger among people and this will create very complicated environment."

According to the UN coordinator, the situation in Gaza today is much worse as it has been controlled by Hamas for the past 12-13 years and separated from the legitimate Palestinian leadership. The region, in his words, is living "under very severe closures, very limited opportunities for development and it creates poverty and frustration there is growing very fast."

"This is why we need to find not just humanitarian solutions or security solutions to the situation on the ground, we need to find a political prospect," he stressed.

Israel’s ongoing construction activities on the West Bank is seen as a major obstacle hampering the decades-long Palestinian-Israeli peace talks. In December 2016, the United Nations Security Council passed Resolution 2334 demanding Israel immediately stop settlement activities on the occupied Palestinian territories. Israel said back then it would not implement this resolution.

US Secretary of State Michael Pompeo said on November 18 Washington no longer considered Israeli settlements on the West Bank, i.e. the territory to be incorporated into a would-be Palestinian state, as violating international law.

On the following day, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu endorsed a bill that will, once approved by the parliament, apply Israeli sovereignty to the West Bank’s areas in the Jornal Valley and the Dead Sea’s northern coast.

In response to Pompeo’s statement, the Palestinian side said that the US administration had no authority to cancel international resolutions regarding the West Bank.

Deal of the century

In its work to solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the United Nations is bound by General Assembly and Security Council resolutions, the UN special coordinator said, commenting on the US initiative known informally as ‘the deal of the century."

"From the UN perspective, we are bound by what has been adopted by the General Assembly and the Security Council and by the parameters that both sides - the Israelis and the Palestinians - over the long time agreed as the way forward," Mladenov said. "We will continue working with the United States and with everyone to bring everyone back to the table… and hopefully we’ll take the discussion forward."

He said the name "deal of the century" was "very ambitious," because "it’s only the beginning of the century, so there is a lot of time."

"We had very good discussions with them [US], [saying] that if their proposal is based on the two-state solution and is in line with the UN resolutions on how to resolve the conflict, and helps bring the sides back to the [negotiating] table, then that proposal would be constructive and helpful to the situation on the ground," he said.

"Unfortunately, we’ve seen over the last few years that the relationship between the Palestinian leadership and the US has completely broken down," the UN official continued. "They don’t talk to each other anymore, and this has been negative. The fact that the United States also pulled out of funding UNRWA [United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East], other programs, closed down assistance programs for both Israelis and Palestinians on the ground is also not helpful."

Mladenov said that after his visit to Moscow, where he met with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and his deputy Sergei Vershinin, he plans to return to Jerusalem and continue his work to settle the crisis in cooperation with Arab nations, the European Union and the United States.

In late June, the US administration made public a 40-page document containing economic aspects of the US plan for the Palestinian-Israeli conflict settlement, dubbed in the United States as the "deal of the century". Thus, it provides for $50 billion worth investments in Palestine and neighboring countries. Under the plan, slightly less than a half of the sum would go to Palestine, with the rest meant for Egypt, Jordan and Lebanon.

Political provisions of the deal have not yet been made public but, as Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said, it is clear already now that it doesn’t provide for the establishment of a separate Palestinian state. More to it, Washington said in November it no longer considered Israeli settlements on the West Bank, i.e. the territory to be incorporated into a would-be Palestinian state, as violating international law.