Countries behind Hebron observer force slam Israeli move to shut it down

6 European foreign ministers say decision to end work of TIPH in West Bank city violates Oslo Accords, deny organization acted against Israel

Soldiers stand near a car used by members of the TIPH, Temporary International Presence in Hebron on Wednesday, Feb. 8, 2006. (AP Photo/Emilio Morenatti)
Soldiers stand near a car used by members of the TIPH, Temporary International Presence in Hebron on Wednesday, Feb. 8, 2006. (AP Photo/Emilio Morenatti)

The foreign ministers of the six contributing countries of the Temporary International Presence in Hebron on Friday condemned Israel’s axing of the observer force in the flashpoint West Bank city, and stressed that the move violated the Oslo Accords.

“We regret the unilateral decision by the Israeli government not to renew the mandate of the Temporary International Presence in Hebron (TIPH) after 31 January 2019,” the ministers of the countries that provide observers to TIPH — Norway, Denmark, Sweden, Switzerland, Italy and Turkey — wrote in a joint statement.

“The Israeli decision to withdraw from the agreement with the PLO and thereby terminate the TIPH constitutes a departure from the Oslo II Accord of 1995.”

The establishment of the TIPH was based on the Oslo Accords between Israel and the Palestinians, which called for an international observer force in the West Bank city.

“Since the UN Security Council adopted resolution 904 in 1994, calling for a temporary international presence in the occupied Palestinian territory, the situation in Hebron remains tense and fragile,” the joint statement continued. “We are concerned that the Israeli government’s decision undermines one of the few established mechanisms for conflict resolution between Israelis and Palestinians and may therefore have a negative impact on the situation.”

The ministers further wrote that: “In this regard, we stress Israel’s obligations under international law to protect the people in Hebron and in other parts of the occupied Palestinian territory, and its duty to ensure accountability for violations thereof.”

Members of the Temporary International Presence in Hebron, TIPH, talk outside their offices in the West Bank town of Hebron in 2006. (AP Photo/Emilio Morenatti)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office announced Monday it would not extend the mandate of the international observer group, following a number of incidents over the past year in which its members scrapped with settlers in the city.

“We will not allow the continuation of an international force that acts against us,” Netanyahu said.

The writers of the statement, however, insisted that TIPH had “diligently fulfilled its mandate as requested by both parties, and thus contributed to preventing violence and promoting a feeling of security for the population in Hebron, and that therefore, they “strongly object to any claim that the TIPH has acted against Israel,” adding that “such claims are unacceptable and ungrounded.”

PLO secretary-general Saeb Erekat responded to Netanyahu’s announcement in a statement that the UN should “guarantee the safety and protection of the people of Palestine not only ensuring the continued presence of TIPH in Hebron but also to deploy permanent international presence in Occupied Palestine, including East Jerusalem, until the end of Israel’s belligerent occupation.”

PLO secretary-general Saeb Erekat addresses the media following a meeting with diplomats in the West Bank city of Ramallah on January 30, 2019. (Abbas Momani/AFP)

Erekat called Netanyahu’s announcement “an additional step towards Israel’s nullification of all signed treaties” and “further evidence that Israel is a rogue state that abhors international legitimacy and places itself above and beyond international order and the international community.”

TIPH is an international civilian observer group that, according to its mandate, was tasked with “monitoring and reporting efforts to maintain normal life in the city of Hebron, thus creating a sense of security among the Palestinians in Hebron.”

It also reported alleged human rights abuses and violations of accords in the city between Israel and Palestinians. TIPH had roughly a dozen staff operating locally and an additional 64 working abroad.

The group had been operating since 1994, and had been ensuring compliance with the Hebron Agreement of 1997.

Signed by Netanyahu and PLO chairman Yasser Arafat, the protocol divided the West Bank’s most populous city into two sections: H1, which includes 80 percent of the city and lies under full Palestinian control, and H2, which is under Israeli military control, and where several hundred Israeli settlers live in heavily guarded compounds surrounded by 40,000 Palestinians whose movements are heavily limited.

Because the group by definition is considered to be temporary, the Hebron Agreement required Israel to renew the mandate of the observers every six months. While TIPH has long been loathed by local settlers, the group has remained due to Israel’s willingness to maintain favorable relations with the participatory countries.

But over the past year, pressure by settler leaders and right-wing lawmakers to end the observers’ mandate increased significantly.

Palestinian Authority security forces touring Israeli-controlled Hebron in uniform on July 31, 2018 (Credit: Wafa)

Last July, Hadashot TV news aired security camera footage that showed a uniformed member of TIPH slashing the tires of an Israeli settler in Hebron.

Earlier that month, a separate video emerged of a TIPH staffer slapping a young Jewish boy across the face, sending his skullcap flying.

The observer group expelled both of the members following internal probes into the filmed incidents.

While no incidents as flagrant were recorded over the last six months, pressure to oust TIPH from Hebron continued to intensify. Last week, police issued a report claiming that TIPH members were “deliberately creating friction to justify their high salary.” The report also claimed that the group was disrupting IDF soldiers’ work vetting Palestinians at local checkpoints and regularly confronting troops.

TIPH officials did not respond to The Times of Israel’s repeated requests for comment.

Michael Bachner, Jacob Magid and AP contributed to this report.

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