By TOVAH LAZAROFF
Palestinians hurl stones at Israeli troops during a protest at the Israel-Gaza border fence, in the southern Gaza Strip February 15, 2019.. (photo credit:“ IBRAHEEM ABU MUSTAFA / REUTERS)
The Palestinians, who are the weaker people in the conflict, need international support more than ever, Mladenov said.
The risk of war and an economic impassion in the West Bank and Gaza is rising, UN Special Coordinator to the Middle East Peace Process Nickolay Mladenov said on Wednesday as he briefed the UN Security Council.
“The prospect of sustainable peace is fading by the day as the specter of violence and radicalism grows,” Mladenov said. “Our efforts today are focused on the immediate challenges – on preventing the risk of an economic and humanitarian implosion in the West Bank and Gaza.”
He spoke as Palestinian violence has increased along Israel’s border with Gaza. Qatar has threatened not to continue to fund fuel for Gaza’s power plant, a move that would likely reduce electricity in the Strip from 12 to four hours a day, thereby increasing the humanitarian crisis in Gaza.
“Extremists are on the rise again and the risk of war continues to loom large,” Mladenov continued. “For Israelis and Palestinians to get back on track for a peaceful resolution of the conflict, the first thing that is required is leadership.”
The situation in Gaza is at a breaking point, he said, due to Hamas’s control and Israel’s severe restrictions. More radical and extremist groups are pushing both sides into war, Mladenov said.
“With the prospects of intra-Palestinian reconciliation dimming, the people of Gaza feel more and more left to their own devices – with no representation, no relief and no way out,” he said. The Palestinians, who are the weaker people in the conflict, need international support more than ever, he said.
The UN envoy, who has worked tirelessly to resolve the Gaza crisis, focused particularly on the economic crisis facing the Palestinian Authority.
Mladenov took issue with both the Israeli decision to withhold $140 million in tax fees to the Palestinians and changes in US policy which have resulted in the total withdrawal of American funds for the PA.
“These are very serious developments that put at risk the financial stability of the Palestinian Authority and ultimately the security of both Israelis and Palestinians alike,” Mladenov said.
The PA had a deficit of $1.4 billion in 2018 that is only expected to grow larger in 2019, Mladenov said. Some 60% of that deficit was covered by donor aid, which is drying up just as the Palestinians’ economic situation is worsening, he added.
Israel’s decision to withhold $140 million in tax fees has only made the situation worse, Mladenov said. Lack of US funding may also impact attempts to unify Fatah and Hamas, he warned. Palestinian elections may now be the only way out of the continued crisis that has resulted from conflict between Hamas and Fatah, he said.
Mladenov called on both sides to recommit themselves to a two-state resolution based on international principles which have guided the conflict for the last 25 years.
He also spoke out against continued Israel demolitions of Palestinian structures in the West Bank, and an upsurge in settler violence that included 20 incidents in which settlers injured Palestinians or damaged their property. This included he said, the January 26 incident in which Israelis entered Al-Mughayyir and killed a “38-year-old Palestinian man, and the injury of 15 others.”
“Ultimately, only sustainable political solutions – including reuniting Gaza and the West Bank under a single, democratic and legitimate Palestinian government and ending the closures of the Strip – will genuinely change the current course,” he said. “What is needed, first and foremost, is the necessary leadership and political will for change. Until that can be found, Palestinians and Israelis will continue to slide into increasingly hazardous territory.”