An outbreak of violence between Israel and extremist groups in Gaza could destroy the fledgling agreement to end the 10-year rift between Fatah and Hamas, UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process Nickolay Mladenov told The Jerusalem Post.
“It is in their [the Islamic Jihad’s] best interest to deescalate as soon as possible.
Any other path would lead us back into a cycle of violence,” he said on Tuesday. “If it does not lead us immediately into a cycle of violence, it will destroy the prospect of reconciliation and return the PA back [to Gaza].”
Mladenov, who will be appearing at The Jerusalem Post’s Diplomatic Conference on December 6 in Jerusalem, spoke with the Post amid a war of words between Israel and Islamic Jihad in Gaza, which prompted the IDF to move Iron Dome batteries into the center of the country to defend civilians against rocket attacks.
It followed Israel’s discovery and explosion of an Islamic Jihad tunnel from Gaza in its territory along the southern border.
Mladenov said Gaza is at a crossroad: between a reconciliation deal that could lead to more normalized life, or an outbreak of violence with Israel that could make an untenable situation for its civilians even worse.
On November 1, based on the reconciliation agreement signed in Cairo in October, Fatah regained control of the Erez and Kerem Shalom crossings with Israel on the Gaza side. But the process hit a snag with regard to the Rafah crossing with Egypt. It is also supposed to be in Fatah’s hands, but it did not open as scheduled on Wednesday.
Except for intermittent periods, it has been closed for the last 10 years.
“We are very far from [full] reconciliation between Fatah and Hamas,” Mladenov said, adding: “We are very much at the early stages of this process, and there are too many things that can go wrong, and most of them probably will.”
The PA taking over of the crossings is just the first step in the reconciliation process, he said, and only if it is completed could there be a possibility of the normalization of the flow of goods in and out of Gaza.
It remains to be seen “whether the Palestinian Authority will be fully empowered to take over civilian and security control of Gaza,” Mladenov said. “If tunnel construction from Gaza toward Israel continues, particularly by organizations like Islamic Jihad, it will be difficult to justify any changes to the security and access to Gaza.”
“That will be very unfortunate,” he said. “That is why all of us have an important responsibility to speak out absolutely clearly and equivocally to warn all those factions in Gaza that if they continue to engage in such activities, they are damaging the situation of their own people.”
For the last 10 years, since Hamas took over the crossings from Fatah, Israel has imposed stiff restrictions on the Erez and Kerem Shalom crossings.
It remains to be seen, however, if the 2005 Agreement on Movement and Access, which dictated the terms of how the crossing would be operated, would now be reactivated or a new one would need to be drafted, Mladenov said.
“That agreement was put in place in a very different environment,” he said.
The PA’s return to the crossings is just one step in the process that includes security, judicial and civil-service issues as well as the overall question of elections, Mladenov said.
“There are a lot of questions still to be addressed,” he said, adding that no matter how complicated the process was, he believed there was no other alternative.
“What is the alternative when you have two million people in abject misery in Gaza under Hamas control for 10 years locked in because of the closures,” Mladenov said. “The situation there is close to exploding. Since the beginning of this year, it has really deteriorated.”
If the reconciliation efforts fall apart, there could be “a meltdown of law and order in Gaza and a security threat for Israel, where the extremists decide they are better off fighting Israel because they can not resolve the internal problems of the [Gaza] Strip,” he said.
“If I were a Palestinian leader in Gaza, after 10 years of living in this hell that they have lived in and three conflicts, to go to people and say let us go back to that mentality and back to that way of doing things, I would think is a disastrous prospect,” Mladenov said. “People need to see hope for the future, and they do not want to see their houses destroyed and their lives put at risk by the recklessness of someone.”