EU throws support behind beleaguered UN Mideast peace envoy

Amid anger over Gaza mediation efforts, PLO is boycotting Nikolay Mladenov for ‘stepping outside’ his role, and PA’s PM refused to meet him

Adam Rasgon is the Palestinian affairs reporter at The Times of Israel

UN Special Coordinator Nikolay Mladenov, February 9, 2015. (CC BY-SA Ottokars, Wikipedia)
UN Special Coordinator Nikolay Mladenov, February 9, 2015. (CC BY-SA Ottokars, Wikipedia)

The European Union on Sunday gave its backing to under-fire United Nations Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process Nikolay Mladenov, who has been sharply criticized in recent days by the Ramallah-based Palestinian leadership for his efforts broker a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas.

“The cycle of violence leads only to more violence and deprives entire generations from the legitimate aspiration to live in peace and free to build their own future. Only a political solution can put an end to the violence,” an EU statement said on continued violence in the Gaza Strip.

“In this context, the European Union strongly appreciates and fully supports the efforts of the United Nation’s Special Coordinator who has been working closely together with all parties and with the international community to get a political process going again in Gaza,” it said.

Amid the Palestinian leadership’s displeasure with Mladenov, a senior Palestine Liberation Organization official said on Sunday that Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah refused to welcome Mladenov to his office last week.

In recent weeks, Palestinian officials have criticized Mladenov over his role in efforts to facilitate a deal in Gaza.

“The EU representative asked to bring Mladenov to a meeting with Prime Minister Hamdallah last week,” Ahmad Majdalani, a PLO Executive Committee member told The Times of Israel, referring to Ralph Tarraf, the European Union’s top diplomat in Jerusalem. “The prime minister refused to receive Mladenov.”

Tarraf and members of the European Parliament met with Hamdallah at his office in Ramallah on October 8.

An EU spokesperson said no UN representatives had planned to attend the meeting between the European officials and the PA prime minister.

Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah, right, and United Nations Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process Nickolay Mladenov meet at PA President Mahmoud Abbas’ former official residence in Gaza City, on October 3, 2017. (AP Photo/Prime Minister Office)

The PLO Executive Committee recently decided the Ramallah-based Palestinian leadership will no longer meet with Mladenov, according to Majdalani.

“Mladenov has stepped outside of his role, which is to work on the peace process, not making peace between Hamas and Israel,” he said. “We will still work with other UN officials, but we will not meet with Mladenov or his office. The problem is specifically with him.”

A spokesman for the PA government and Mladenov’s office did not immediately respond to requests for comment about Majdalani’s remaks.

UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres on Friday defended Mladenov, with his spokesperson Farhan Haq saying he “fully supports” the Mideast peace envoy’s “tireless” efforts and expressing hope that a political breakthrough will be achieved, the Chinese news agency Xinhua reported.

Mladenov, alongside Egypt, has recently played a key role in attempting to mediate a ceasefire between Hamas and Israel.

Palestinian protesters gather in the smoke billowing from burning tyres as Israeli forces launch tear gas canisters at the Israel-Gaza border, east of Gaza city, on October 12, 2018. (Photo by SAID KHATIB / AFP)

Fatah and the PA have vehemently opposed any possible ceasefire between Israel and Hamas, the terrorist group that rules Gaza. They have demanded reconciliation between Fatah and Hamas take place before any ceasefire be reached, and asserted the PLO is the sole Palestinian party that can negotiate such a deal.

Last week, Mladenov also helped to facilitate the entry of Qatari-bought fuel into Gaza.

At the time, a PA official argued the entry of the Qatari-purchased fuel into Gaza was tantamount to financial aid for Hamas.

“When Qatar pays for the fuel, Hamas in Gaza will collect the bills and put it in its pocket, and this is an indirect financial aid to Hamas,” said a PA official on October 9, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Earlier this month, a high-ranking Fatah official accused Mladenov of working on behalf of US President Donald Trump’s administration and intervening in internal Palestinian affairs. The PA has been boycotting the Trump administration since it recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital last December.

“He is a servant of the American administration,” Majed Fityani, the secretary-general of the Fatah Revolutionary Council, told Palestine TV, the official PA channel. “He should… not be intervening in internal affairs. It is not his right or mandate to interfere, but he puts his nose in everything.”

Majed Fityani, the secretary-general Fatah Revolutionary Council, speaks to Palestine TV, the official Palestinian Authority channel, on October 6, 2018. (Screen capture: Youtube)

Fityani also contended that Mladenov is no longer an “honest broker” and said the Palestinians consider his work as UN special coordinator for the Middle East peace process to be over.

“I believe that Mr. Mladenov is no longer an honest broker in this process,” he said. “As far as we are concerned as Palestinians, Mladenov’s mission has ended. He should spend the rest of his time as the envoy of the UN secretary-general on vacation with his Israeli friends or traveling at the expense of Trump or those who fund this moral and political digression, in which he has drowned.”

Hadashot TV news reported in August that “it appears Mladenov is expected to finish his job” as UN special coordinator for the Middle East peace process in the near future.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Emmanuel Nahshon, however, said on Sunday in a phone call that he had no idea when Mladenov’s tenure as UN special coordinator would end.

Last month, Azzam al-Ahmad, a Fatah Central Committee member, also lashed out at Mladenov.

“We have expressed criticisms to Mladenov,” he told Palestine TV on September 22. “He has intervened in [matters] outside of the framework of his duties.”

Ahmad also said that he “believes Mladenov has been a supporter of Israel since he was the Bulgarian foreign minister.”

Mladenov served as Bulgarian foreign minister between January 2010 and March 2013.

Earlier this month, Mladenov’s office declined to comment on the remarks by Fityani and Ahmad.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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