Israel to boot international observers out of Hebron, Netanyahu says

Israel to boot international observers out of Hebron, Netanyahu says

Decision to not extend TIPH’s mandate — slated to expire at month’s end — comes after a number of clashes between members of the group and settlers; Palestinians slam move

Jacob Magid is the settlements correspondent for The Times of Israel.

Illustrative: Observers of TIPH, an international monitor group, walk in a street of Hebron on November 19, 2007. (Nati Shohat/Flash90)
Illustrative: Observers of TIPH, an international monitor group, walk in a street of Hebron on November 19, 2007. (Nati Shohat/Flash90)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced Monday that Israel would not be extending the mandate of an international observer group in Hebron, following a number of incidents over the past year in which its members scrapped with settlers in the flashpoint West Bank city.

“We will not allow the continuation of an international force that acts against us,” Netanyahu said in a statement announcing the decision to oust the Temporary International Presence in Hebron.

TIPH is an international civilian observer group that, according to its mandate, is 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 reports alleged human rights abuses and violations of accords in the city between Israel and Palestinians. Observers for the group come from Norway, Denmark, Sweden, Switzerland, Italy, and Turkey. TIPH has roughly a dozen staff operating locally and an additional 64 working abroad.

The group has been operating since 1994, and has been ensuring compliance with the Hebron Agreement of 1997 for the last 22 years.

A senior Palestinian official said the move was unacceptable and called for pressure on Israel to reverse the decision.

Signed by Netanyahu along with then 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.

Israeli soldiers search Palestinians, after setting up a checkpoint at the entrance to the industrial zone of Hebron, on June 15, 2014. (Hadas Parush/FLASH90)

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.

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.

A screenshot from video of a Swiss member of the TIPH civilian monitoring group slapping a Jewish boy during a tour of the West Bank city of Hebron on June 11, 2018. (Screen capture: Hadashot TV news)

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.

Netanyahu subsequently summoned the leader of TIPH, Einar Johnsen, and issued a public condemnation of the group, but stopped short of ending its mandate.

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.”

IDF soldiers speak with a young Jewish boy in the divided West Bank city of Hebron, November 6, 2015 (Mendy Hechtman/FLASH90)

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.

Nabil Abu Rudeineh, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’s spokesman, said the move meant the Israeli government was “abandoning the implementation of internationally-brokered signed agreements”

“We will absolutely will not accept this,” he said. “We call on the countries that sponsored the signing of these agreements to take a clear stance regarding this dangerous Israeli move and to immediately put pressure on the Israeli government to continue their implementation.”

Right-wing politicians and settler leaders were quick to praise Netanyahu’s announcement Monday evening.

Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan, who had urged the prime minister to make the move, said TIPH members had “cooperated with extremist organizations and promoted delegitimization of Israel.”

Jewish Home lawmaker Moti Yogev said the observer “was made up of Israel-haters, was one-sided and recently even harmed Jews and Jewish property in Hebron.”

The Yesha settlement umbrella council said it was “important news” that the organization, “which has been active against the state for many years, will no longer be part of the landscape in the region.”

While the far-right Otzma Yehudit party praised the decision, it claimed Netanyahu only made the decision to “become a right wing prime minister” because it was election season.

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