Top UN official warns Gaza electricity crisis will haunt Israel
Nickolay Mladenov says Strip’s power shortage keeps him ‘up at night,’ could lead to new conflict; advises US not to rush into final status talks
Raphael Ahren is the diplomatic correspondent at The Times of Israel.
A United Nations official stationed in Jerusalem warned Israel that the current energy crisis afflicting the Hamas-run Gaza Strip is having a devastating effect on the local population, and will eventually negatively impact Israelis too.
Nickolay Mladenov, the UN’s special coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, said Israel has no immediate, direct role to play in solving the crisis, but that once it has been resolved by the conflicting Palestinian factions, Israel should do its utmost to improve conditions for the citizens of the coastal strip.
“Of all the issues we deal with — the peace process, Palestinian institution building, the region — this is the one issue that keeps me up at night,” Mladenov told Israeli reporters in his Jerusalem office.
Since the Palestinian Authority decided to ask Israel to reduce the amount of fuel it delivers to Gaza, the local sewage system has shut down, causing 100,000 tons of unprocessed waste water to get dumped into the Mediterranean every day, he said. Some of the waste water has reached desalination plants off Ashkelon, he added.
Some residents of Gaza have no drinking water, and prices for vegetables have gone up by 50 percent, Mladenov added.
“The effects of the crisis are devastating,” he said. “And all of this, at the end of the day, will come back to Israel’s doorstep.”
A worsening humanitarian crisis in the Strip could lead to another round of violence with Israel, which would destroy the budding US-led initiative to relaunch Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations, he also warned.
Mladenov, who also functions as UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres’s representative to the Palestinian Authority and to the Palestine Liberation Organization, welcomed the latest American effort to reach a peace agreement, but cautioned US negotiators against pressing ahead too quickly.
“It would not be helpful to jump to discussing final status issues right away. That tends to be premature, because the level of distrust on both sides is so big,” he said. “If you suddenly jump to those issues you’re not going to have the support of constituencies on either side. And it wouldn’t look reasonable.”
He added: “I haven’t yet met a single Israeli who doesn’t think that another round of negotiations driven by the international community wouldn’t lead to another intifada. And I haven’t yet met a single Palestinian who doesn’t think that another round of negotiations driven by the international community would not leave him worse off.”
Nonetheless, Mladenov praised US President Donald Trump’s special envoy Jason Greenblatt, who is currently in the region to advance the American peace initiative.
“We’re still at this stage where the administration is looking at what’s possible before coming out with any announcements. That’s a good stage to be in, because it helps the administration understand the environment.”
In his first meeting with Greenblatt, whom Mladenov described as “extremely smart and attentive,” he advised the US envoy not to rush into launching talks aiming at attaining a quick final-status peace deal. “I said to him, ‘Don’t rush. Take your time,’” the UN envoy recalled. It was “presumptuous” to start prescribing solutions to people who have lived with the conflict for their entire lifetime.
“It’s important to understand the limitations of the two sides. Because for all the good will in the world, there are limitations that exist,” he said, referring to hawkish constituencies that both Palestinian and Israeli leaders must satisfy.