UN envoy says conflict likely if Palestinians fail to agree

November 20, 2017

FILE - In a Monday, Sept. 25, 2017 file photo, United Nations Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process Nickolay Mladenov, attends a press conference at the (UNSCO) offices in Gaza City. Mladenov said Monday, Nov. 20, 2017, that reconciliation talks between Palestinian rivals Fatah and Hamas must succeed, warning that failure "will most likely result in another devastating conflict."(AP Photo/Adel Hana, File)

UNITED NATIONS (AP) — The U.N.’s Mideast envoy warned Monday that if reconciliation talks between Palestinian rivals Fatah and Hamas fail there will most likely be “another devastating conflict.”

Nickolay Mladenov told the Security Council that “critical intra-Palestinian talks” are scheduled to open in Cairo on Tuesday.

He said the Oct. 12 agreement between the rivals, aimed at restoring the Fatah-led Palestinian Authority’s rule in the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip, started “a long road that could lead to reconciliation.”

But the U.N. special coordinator for the Middle East peace process warned of the consequences and likely conflict if the Hamas-Fatah agreement fails.

“Whether it would be triggered by a meltdown of law and order in Gaza, by the reckless action of extremists or by strategic choice, the result will be the same — devastation and suffering for all,” Mladenov said. “This cycle must be avoided at all costs.”

He said Palestinian leaders, Israel and the international community “have an important responsibility to advance the peace efforts.”

The rival factions must also first solve the humanitarian crisis for Gaza’s two million residents and return the territory to full civilian and security control by the Palestinian Authority, Mladenov told the council by video conference from Jerusalem.

Tuesday’s talks are expected to focus on the Palestinian Authority’s expansion of its rule in Gaza and broader national issues.

In 2007, Hamas wrested control of Gaza from the Palestinian Authority after winning legislative elections a year earlier. It has wielded absolute power in Gaza since, driving humanitarian conditions to near-total collapse.

Mladenov called the Palestinian Authority’s control over Gaza border crossings since Nov. 1 “a landmark step.” And for the first time in more than a decade, he said the Rafah crossing between Gaza and Egypt was opened on Nov. 18 under the authority’s control.

The transfer of responsibility at Gaza-based public institutions is also “slowly proceeding,” Mladenov said, noting that several ministers and technical teams have traveled from the Palestinian Authority-controlled West Bank to Gaza to begin restoring government control.

Mladenov said the “not-so-good news” is that Gaza residents “have not seen any improvements to their daily lives.”

Power outages last up to 20 hours a day, clean water is limited and sewage keeps flowing into the Mediterranean Sea “at catastrophic levels,” he said.

Mladenov urged donors to fund the $10.8 million that is still needed to reach the U.N.’s $25 million humanitarian appeal for Gaza.

On broader Israeli-Palestinian issues, Mladenov welcomed the Nov. 8 announcement that security coordination between Israel and the Palestinians was being restored.

He expressed concern at the implications of an announcement by the administration of U.S. President Donald Trump late Friday that the Palestinian Liberation Organization cannot operate a Washington office if the Palestinians try to get the International Criminal Court to prosecute Israelis for crimes against Palestinians, which U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson determined the Palestinians tried to do in September.

The Palestinians threatened Saturday to suspend all communication with the U.S. if Trump follows through and closes the PLO office.

That could undermine Trump’s bid for Mideast peace — a mission he has handed his son-in-law, Jared Kushner.

Mladenov said “only through constructive dialogue can we hope to advance peace and I call on all parties to remain engaged.”

“I believe and hope that a genuine change in Gaza, including full security control by the Palestinian Authority, would contribute to restoring confidence in the feasibility of a comprehensive peace agreement,” he said. “All Palestinian factions must seize this opportunity to open a new page for their people.”

Israel’s U.N. Ambassador Danny Danon told reporters Israel respects the Trump administration’s decisions but said: “We believe in negotiations with the Palestinians. We don’t believe in unilateral actions.”

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