UN head backs international observer mission booted from Hebron

Antonio Guterres says he’s in talks with relevant parties to ‘ensure protection of civilians’ after Palestinian official calls for help to save TIPH

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 UN said Friday that Secretary General Antonio Guterres hopes an agreement can be reached to protect Palestinians in the West Bank after Israel said it was suspending the mandate of an international observer mission.

UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said in a statement that Guterres was “grateful” to the five countries that contributed to conflict prevention and the protection of Palestinians under the Temporary International Presence in Hebron for the past 22 years.

“The Secretary-General… hopes that an agreement can be found by the parties to preserve the TIPH’s long-standing and valuable contribution to conflict prevention and the protection of Palestinians in Hebron,” the statement from Dujarric asserted.

PLO secretary-general Saeb Erekat had appealed to the UN last week after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced he would not extend TIPH’s mandate.

Erekat had called on the UN to ensure that TIPH is kept in place and to dispatch a “permanent international presence in Occupied Palestine, including East Jerusalem, until the end of Israel’s belligerent occupation.”

United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres leaves a lunch at the Elysee Palace in Paris on November 11, 2018, during commemorations marking the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I. (Jacques Demarthon/AFP)

Dujarric said Guterres “continues to engage with relevant (UN) member states and the parties on the ground to ensure the protection, safety, and wellbeing of civilians.”

The spokesman reiterated Guterres’s commitment to the two-state solution and to “safeguarding the principles and vision enshrined in the Oslo framework, relevant United Nations resolutions, and other applicable agreements.”

On Friday, the TIPH countries — Switzerland, Sweden, Norway, Italy and Turkey — condemned in a joint statement the Israeli government’s unilateral decision not to extend the observer force’s mission in the flashpoint city.

“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 countries said in a statement.

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. 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.

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)

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.

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 month, Netanyahu’s office announced 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. Videos emerged last showing one TIPH staffer slashing the tires of an Israeli settler and another slapping a young Jewish boy. TIPH expelled both after an internal probe.

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

Border Police guard a station near the Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron, where an explosive device was neutralized by sappers on June 10, 2018. (Israel Police)

Last week, Israeli 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.

The foreign ministries of the TIPH member countries stated in response that they “strongly object to any claim that the TIPH has acted against Israel,” adding that “such claims are unacceptable and ungrounded.”

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