Norway says Israel’s axing of Hebron observer force may violate Oslo accords

Foreign minister calls decision to end work of TIPH ‘worrying,’ cites ‘unstable’ nature of West Bank city

File: Norwegian Foreign Minister Ine Eriksen Soreide in Jerusalem on January 07, 2018 (Mark Neyman/GPO)
File: Norwegian Foreign Minister Ine Eriksen Soreide in Jerusalem on January 07, 2018 (Mark Neyman/GPO)

Norway on Tuesday warned that Israel’s decision to end the work of an observer force in the West Bank city of Hebron may violate the Oslo Accords.

“The one-sided Israeli decision can mean that the implementation of an important part of the Oslo Accords is discontinued,” Foreign Minister Ine Eriksen Soereide told Reuters.

“The situation in Hebron is unstable and characterized by conflict,” she said, and thus ending the Norwegian-led mission was a “worrying” development.

The establishment of the Temporary International Presence in Hebron (TIPH) was based on the Oslo Accords between Israel and the Palestinians, which called for an international observer force in the flashpoint West Bank city.

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.

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

Palestinian diplomat Saeb Erekat responded 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.”

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. Observers for the group come from Norway, Denmark, Sweden, Switzerland, Italy, and Turkey. 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.

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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