UN peace envoy says Jerusalem’s status shouldn’t be decided unilaterally

Alluding to Trump’s expected recognition of Israel’s capital, Nickolay Mladenov says the city is ‘the center’ of both Jewish and Palestinian life

Raphael Ahren is the diplomatic correspondent at The Times of Israel.

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)
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)

A senior United Nations official said Wednesday that Jerusalem is central to both Israelis and Palestinians, and argued that the city’s status should be negotiated between the two sides.

Nickolay Mladenov’s remarks come hours ahead of US President Donald Trump’s expected recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, a move largely welcomed in Israel but denounced by the Palestinians along with much of the rest of the world.

“For the Jewish people, Jerusalem is and always will be the center of their life, their culture, for thousands of years. It is and it will always be,” Mladenov, the UN’s special coordinator for the peace process, said at the Jerusalem Post Diplomatic conference in the city’s Waldorf Astoria hotel.

“It is also the center of life for the Palestinian people. It is and it will always be,” he added. “It will always host Christian, Jewish and Muslim holy sites. This is what makes Jerusalem so universally important to everyone, and this is what makes any decision on Jerusalem so emotional.”

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has spoken about the status of Jerusalem many times, his Jerusalem-based envoy said. The international community should be “very careful” with the actions it takes on Jerusalem in light of possible negative repercussions, he said, paraphrasing Guterres.

“The future of Jerusalem is something that needs to be negotiated with Israel, with the Palestinians, sitting side by side, directly, in negotiations,” Mladenov said, adding that the UN encourages a “return to meaningful negotiations” between Israelis and Palestinians.

The European Union’s ambassador to Israel, Emanuele Giaufret, declined to comment on the US administration’s expected recognition of Jerusalem, saying he had to wait to hear the president’s speech. He did say, however, that violence is the wrong response to the move. Palestinian factions have threatened a new “intifada” in light of the reported recognition. Giaufret further said that the international community’s “focus” right now should be the resumption of meaningful peace talks.

Also speaking at the conference was Transportation and Intelligence Minister Yisrael Katz, who hailed Trump’s anticipated speech, scheduled for 8 p.m. Israel time.

“This is a historical day,” Katz declared, speaking in English. “Palestinian opposition to the expected declaration is an audacity, and reflects an unwillingness to recognize the right of the Jewish people to a state, just like 70 years ago.

Transportation and Intelligence Minister Yisrael Katz (AP/Dan Balilty)

“Hamas says this openly — an Arab Muslim Jerusalem — without Jews. [PA President Mahmoud Abbas] tries to exert pressure and says it indirectly,” Katz continued. “I say clearly: Whoever does not recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel does not recognize the right of the Jewish people to a state of their own and Israel’s right to exist.”

Recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital “will contribute to Palestinian acceptance of the existence of Israel, and will be a realistic basis for negotiations between them and Israel,” the Likud minister added.

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