Israel’s UN ambassador on Thursday accused international observers in Hebron of acting as “a violent, biased” force and defended the government’s suspension of their mandate — and US support for Israel’s action.
Danny Danon said that instead of maintaining order and neutrality, the observers “used violence, created friction with the civilian population, and interfered with security forces.”
The United States on Wednesday blocked an Arab-backed Security Council statement put forward by Indonesia and Kuwait expressing regret at Israel’s action, recognizing the observer mission’s “efforts to foster calm in a highly sensitive area,” and calling for protection of Palestinian civilians.
In the West Bank city of Hebron, hundreds of hardline Jewish settlers live alongside more than 200,000 Palestinians.
The Temporary International Presence in Hebron or TIPH was established in 1994 following Israeli settler Baruch Goldstein’s massacre of 29 worshipers in the city’s Tomb of the Patriarchs.
A Security Council resolution adopted in March 1994 strongly condemned the Hebron massacre and called for measures to be taken to guarantee the safety and protection of Palestinian civilians, which led to TIPH. In its latest form, Norway, Italy, Sweden, Switzerland and Turkey provided unarmed observers and funded the mission.
Foreign ministers from the five countries expressed regret at Israel’s announcement in December that it would not renew TIPH’s mandate which expired on January 31 and stressed Israel’s obligation to protect the people in Hebron and other Palestinian areas.
“The contributing countries have supported the mission to fulfill its mandate at the parties’ request, and in the parties’ interest,” and have “contributed to preventing violence and promoting a feeling of security for the population in Hebron,” their joint statement said.
“We therefore strongly object to any claim that the TIPH has acted against Israel,” the ministers said. “Such claims are unacceptable and unfounded.”
Israel’s Danon was critical.
“There is no place in Israel or anywhere in the world for an international force to harm the country in which it operates,” he said.
“The United States stands by Israel’s right to not renew TIPH’s mandate and to act on its own accord to ensure stability, without the help of a violent, biased international force,” Danon said. “That the Palestinians want to maintain violent observers in Hebron attests to their intentions.”
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office announced last week 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.
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. 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 TIPH is, by definition, 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.
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.