UN envoy says risk of Israeli-Palestinian war looms large

Nikolay Mladenov warns political will for change is needed to prevent both sides becoming more extreme

Palestinian rioters take part in a night demonstration near the fence along the border with Israel, east of Gaza City, on February 11, 2019. (Mahmud Hams/AFP)
Palestinian rioters take part in a night demonstration near the fence along the border with Israel, east of Gaza City, on February 11, 2019. (Mahmud Hams/AFP)

The prospect of peace between Israel and the Palestinians is fading by the day as violence and radicalism grow — and “the risk of war continues to loom large,” the UN Mideast envoy warned Wednesday.

Nikolay Mladenov also told the UN Security Council that a negotiated two-state solution is drifting further away.

“What is needed, first and foremost, is the necessary leadership and political will for change,” he said. “Until that will can be found, Palestinians and Israelis will continue to slide into increasingly hazardous territory.”

Mladenov stressed that leaders must believe peace is possible through negotiations — and that leaders and the international community must be committed to support Israelis and Palestinians to reach a peace deal based on UN resolutions and bilateral agreements.

Nikolay Mladenov, United Nations Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, speaks during a press conference at the UNESCO headquarters in Gaza City, September 25, 2017. (AFP/MOHAMMED ABED)

He said the international community must also understand “that the weaker party — the Palestinian people who have lived under occupation for more than 50 years — need our support more than ever.”

“Unfortunately, unilateral measures, continuing violence, financial pressures and the lack of progress towards peace are exacting a heavy toll on Palestinian society and undermining the foundations of peace,” Mladenov said.

He said Hamas’ continuing control of Gaza, severe restrictions on movement imposed by Israel, “and the Palestinian Authority’s restrictive measures are pushing the situation to a breaking point.”

“The militant build-up continues as the risk of ever more radical and extremist groups pushing both sides into war grows by the day,” the UN envoy warned.

Palestinians climb the security fence along the border between Israel and the Gaza Strip, during clashes east of Gaza City, on February 15, 2019. (Said Khatib/AFP)

Mladenov said that with prospects of reconciliation between the Palestinian factions dimming, people in Gaza “feel more and more left to their own devices — with no representation, no relief and no way out.”

Tensions between Israel and the Palestinians have become even more tense against the background of months of clashes along the border with the Gaza Strip and payments by the Palestinian Authority to those who carry out terror attacks against Israelis.

On Wednesday at least three incendiary balloons launched from the Gaza Strip landed in Israel or exploded en route, according to one Gaza-bordering local council.

In response, IDF aircraft fired at a group of Palestinians launching the incendiary devices, the Israeli military said Wednesday evening, calling the target a Hamas post from which the airborne devices were launched.

Palestinians hold portraits of relatives jailed in Israeli prisons as they protest to demand for their release during a demonstration to mark the Prisoners’ Day in the northern West Bank city of Nablus on April 17, 2018. (AFP PHOTO / JAAFAR ASHTIYEH)

The Hamas terror group, which in 2007 seized control of Gaza from Abbas’s West Bank-based PA, has been encouraging the border protests that have at times escalated into deadly clashes and near open war with Israel. A fragile unofficial ceasefire has been in place since November but some protests have continued.

After earlier this month an Israeli teenager was raped and murdered by a West Bank Palestinian man who claimed to have committed the crimes in the name of Palestinian nationalism, the Israeli government on Sunday approved withholding from tax revenues some $138 million the PA pays annually to Palestinians who attack Israelis.

The security cabinet’s decision was an effort to start implementing a new law that permits Israel to withhold tax money due Ramallah over payments it makes to security prisoners held by Israel and the families of slain attackers, including terrorists.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas responded to the measure saying he would reject all tax revenues collected by Israel on behalf of the PA from goods which arrive at Israeli ports before being delivered to Palestinian territories.

Israeli officials have defended the security cabinet’s decision, arguing that the PA’s payments incentivize violence and terrorism.

Abbas’s rejection of all tax revenues could mean a PA forfeiture of hundreds of millions of shekels each month – several billion a year, and perhaps as much as a third of the PA’s total budget, posing a serious risk that the PA could collapse.

Last month, Mladenov outlined steps to support stability for the Palestinian Authority including expanded trade opportunities, addressing financial issues, increasing services for its people, and ensuring security coordination with

He said these measures “are not a substitute for peace.”

These must be matched by Israel, he said, including ending its policy of settlement construction and expansion and creating opportunities for Palestinian development in Area C in the West Bank, which is under exclusive Israeli control and home to dozens of Israeli settlements.

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