The Special Coordinator, who made the comments below during a closed meeting, approved their public release.

“Though ‘peace process’ is in the title,” Nickolay Mladenov, United Nations Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, noted, “without a negotiation process in place for the last several years I have to focus on the ‘peace’  part of my mandate: preventing another war in the region where there are too many.” 

Mr. Mladenov made these comments in New York last night to a private gathering of supporters of Israel Policy Forum, which backs a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. On the eve of the annual United Nations General Assembly opening, he discussed with them the key Middle East issues facing the international community and their relations to the prospects of achieving the two-states vision.

People on both sides of the conflict are “disenchanted with the  process,” with Israelis citing the many past failures, he said. “I haven’t met an Israeli who doesn’t think that a peace process will lead to another intifada.” And, “I haven’t met a Palestinian who doesn’t believe a peace process will lead to their losing more land.”

“Ultimately,” he said, “to have peace through negotiations, the national dignity on both sides has to be preserved.”

At the UN, he told the group in Wednesday night, “we are trying to point out to all, that even in the current stalemate, a lot can be done to improve the lives of people.”  Moreover, “the UN is in a unique position, being able to engage and talk to all relevant parties, Israelis, Palestinians, the region and beyond.”

Special Coordinator Mladenov, who has been holding this post since April 2015 and before that headed the UN Mission in Iraq (2013-2015), described his current role in the international community as “facilitating what is possible on the ground, and preserving the conditions and possibility for a two-states solution with the goal of bringing Israelis and Palestinians back to the negotiating table.” 

Then, he continued, “once that becomes possible, we will need to erect a ‘firewall’ to protect the negotiations from all who will want to destroy the prospect for two-states. If you remove that perspective of resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict through peaceful negotiations, you open the gates to violence, to inequality.”

“There is no viable alternative to the two-state solution,” he declared. For this reason, he finds the recent talk and proposals in Israel about annexing all or even parts of the West Bank troubling. “The prospect for annexation is very dangerous,” he stated. 

He returned to the theme of violence several times during the evening, at one point declaring passionately, “If people kill families, kill family members in their homes, that is terrorism, and must be called out by everyone. Nothing justifies acts of terror.”  

Mr. Mladenov, who has been looking closely at the Middle East region for many years from previous posts, including as Foreign Minister of his home country Bulgaria, also returned to the theme of preventing war, especially emanating from Gaza. “If there’s another military confrontation in Gaza, any chance of Israel-Palestinian rapprochement will be put on ice.”

Moreover, he warned, “that war could be the spark that would inflame the region.” That is why, he said, “We are taking steps, all in cooperation with Israel and Egypt, to reduce violence along the Israel-Gaza fence, to alleviate the suffering of people and to create the conditions for addressing the long-term challenges that Gaza faces.” He cited three important needs: electricity, job creation and healthcare. 

Qatar, Switzerland  and other countries are working with his mission and “supporting the UN effort at preventive diplomacy.” He pointed out. When asked about the Trump administration’s pulling all US funding from UNRWA, he said, “Currently the Agency cannot be replaced. If there’s no UNRWA in Gaza, for example, all the schools fall into the hands of radicals.”

Mr. Mladenov called the “internal Palestinian division” between Hamas and the Fatah a “serious obstacle to the peace process.” This is “solvable over time, incrementally,” he said, and Egypt is playing a “critical role. But the process of keeping the fragile peace in Gaza is very challenging and often fraught with spoilers.”

When asked about Israel’s elections results, he offered some advice for the next Israeli Prime Minister. “Don’t succumb to the temptation to take more unilateral steps. Reign in settlement construction and expansion. Keep your eye on the big prize: normalizing relations with the Arab states. That requires a commitment to the two-state solution and progress on resolving the Palestinian question.”