Erekat meets UN envoy to protest Israeli ejection of Hebron observer group

Mladenov’s first talks with Palestinian leadership since being shunned by PA in October also focus on formation of new Palestinian government

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)
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)

A top Palestinian official met Thursday with the UN’s Middle East ambassador to discuss Israel’s decision to eject an observer group in Hebron, in the first such public meeting since the Palestinian Authority declared the envoy persona non grata last year.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced Monday he would not extend the mandate of the Temporary International Presence in Hebron, or TIPH, following a number of incidents over the past year between its members and Jewish settlers in the West Bank city.

TIPH, which is staffed by civilian European observers, began operating in Hebron in 1994 and monitors compliance with a 1997 agreement dividing the city between Israeli and Palestinian control.

Nickolay Mladenov, the United Nations envoy, wrote on Twitter following his meeting with the head of the Palestine Liberation Organization’s Executive Committee, Saeb Erekat, that TIPH “has contributed to maintaining calm in a highly sensitive area.”

It was the first meeting between a senior Palestinian Authority figure and Mladenov since the West Bank-based government declared in October he was “no longer acceptable” because of his efforts to broker a truce deal between Israel and the Gaza-based terror group Hamas.

The two also discussed plans to form a new Palestinian government, according to Mladenov.

Speaking at a press conference earlier Thursday, Erekat called for the UN to prevent TIPH’s removal, saying the observer group’s member states — Italy, Norway, Switzerland, Turkey and Sweden — must decide “whether Israel is above international law” and whether they would allow it “to do as it wishes in the international arena and flout existing and signed agreements.”

On Tuesday Erekat asked the UN to deploy a permanent international force in the West Bank and East Jerusalem in light of the Israeli decision not to renew TIPH’s mandate.

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. Observers for the group came from Norway, Denmark, Sweden, Switzerland, Italy, and Turkey. TIPH had roughly a dozen staff operating locally and an additional 64 working abroad.

File: 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)

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 participating countries.

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

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.

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