Normalization deals can benefit Palestinians - Mladenov to NYT

"Neither Israel nor the Arab countries will want to ruin the treaty, giving other countries leverage in Israel."

NICKOLAY MLADENOV (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
(photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
Having recently completed his post as the UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East, Nickolay Mladenov, who was praised by both Israelis and Palestinians as an honest and trustworthy broker, explained in an interview to the New York Times (NYT) how he managed to do it, and how he thinks Israel's recent normalization deals might affect the Israeli-Palestinian peace-process.
In the two-and-a-half hour long interview, Mladenov explained how his background allowed him to position himself as a relevant player for all sides in the complex conflict and argued that while the Palestinians may be furious and feel betrayed by Israel's recent normalization deals, it will eventually prove to be beneficial for them as well.  
Mladenov held the complex position as the UN envoy to the Israeli-Palestinian peace process for nearly six years. Traditionally, the position hasn't yielded much progress. Mladenov's predecessors mostly functioned as critics, without actually working to make a change or become really involved in the process. Mladenov's starting point was thus extremely challenging: he was required to regain trust lost for years by both sides before even dealing with the issue at hand. And he did.
At first, “this mission was very much isolated from any sort of high-level interaction,” Mladenov told NYT. “Nobody took it seriously. Basically, one side expects you to just repeat what they say, the other side expects you to go away, and that’s it.”
So Mladenov tried a different approach, one that would position him as one of the most influential characters in the over 70-year-long conflict.
Perhaps the smartest thing that Mladenov did when arriving to Jerusalem in 2015 was to dive into the complex nature of the conflict and to show all sides that he actually wants to hear them out. The immediate result: realizing that there are many more sides at play than simply Israelis and Palestinians. “You can have the best deal in the world,” but as long as Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza are at odds, he told NYT, “good luck with implementing it.”
With that in mind, Mladenov decided to take concrete action in the absence of any formal negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. Shortly after starting his position, he managed in 2016 to convince members of the Middle East Quartet - US, Russia, European Union and the UN - a supranational entity involved in mediating the Israeli–Palestinian peace process - to issue a special report that at the very least preserved the possibility of a two-state solution.
The report was groundbreaking, considering a clause that called on the Palestinians to “cease incitement to violence” and condemn “all acts of terrorism,” which from the limited international point of view of the conflict, was unheard of. Mladenov remembers how it required “a shift in everyone’s position.”
Unlike many of his predecessors, Mladenov wasn't seen as bias towards one side. He made it a habit to regularly denounce both Israel and the PA when crossing red lines according to UN standards.
“If you as the UN are not clear where you stand on these things, you can’t be credible,” he said. “And I suppose that being critical of both the Israelis and the Palestinians, where I felt that they’ve done things wrong, and welcoming them when they’ve done things right — I think that’s a novelty in this frozen conflict.”
Experienced Israeli peace negotiator Nimrod Novik told NYT that Mladenov's strength was in framing his objectives and reality itself according to each side's interest. “You can say to the Israelis, ‘Look, life in Gaza is so miserable,’” Novik said. “Or you can say, ‘Gaza’s about to explode in your face, but if we do one-two-three we can gain quite a few months of tranquillity, so help me help you.’”  
Mladenov noted that he changed the narrative surrounding the conflict, in a way that opened up possibilities because it showed all involved parties that their voice was actually being heard. “I don’t talk about this conflict in the usual way,” he said. “You cannot go into a restaurant in Tel Aviv, shoot at people and tell me later that that is legitimate resistance. No, it is not.” On the other hand, in 2018 he tweeted “Stop shooting at children" when IDF troops killed a Palestinian teenager who was participating in protests on the Gaza border.
Addressing the recent normalization deals signed with Muslim countries including the UAE, Bahrain, Sudan and Morocco, Mladenov expressed hope that the trend would benefit the Palestinian cause by creating leverage on Israel. But for that, he said, the Palestinians would need to put aside their anger and sense of betrayal.
“OK, now it’s very emotional, the Palestinians are super angry,” he told NYT. “But put away those emotions and think: Who’s most effective when they try to push Israel to do certain things? Egypt and Jordan. If four, six or 10 Arab countries have embassies in Tel Aviv, you’d want them to be on your side, right?”
“You now have a treaty,” he added. “That’s a big thing. Neither Israel nor the Arab countries will want to ruin it. That gives certain countries leverage in Israel. If you’re the Palestinians, you’ll really want to explain to your Arab brothers and friends what your positions are, and bring them back to the table on your side of the conversation.”
Mladenov's ability to see a multidimensional complex reality, rather than simplifying it, as others who don't live in it tend to do, can be attributed to his personal and professional background.
“I come from the Balkans,” he said. “We’ve changed borders. We’ve fought over holy places, languages, churches. We’ve exchanged populations, for 100 years, if not more. And when you carry that baggage, it does help you see things a bit differently. This is not a conflict where you can come in and just draw a line. It’s emotional.”
He added that from his own experience, when "foreigners come and tell you what to do, you just shut them off."