UNITED NATIONS — The United States on Wednesday blocked a proposed UN Security Council statement expressing regret over Israel’s decision to end an international observer force in the West Bank city of Hebron, diplomats said.
Kuwait and Indonesia had circulated the draft statement following a closed-door council meeting during which many countries expressed concern about the Israeli move.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced last week that he would not renew the mandate of the Temporary International Presence in Hebron (TIPH), accusing the mission led by Norway of bias.
The establishment of the TIPH, with its 64-member team of unarmed observers, was based on the Oslo Accords between Israel and the Palestinians, which called for an international observer force in the West Bank city following a massacre of Palestinians in 1994.
The proposed statement was to express the Security Council’s “regret” about Israel’s “unilateral decision” and call for “calm and restraint” in Hebron, according to the text seen by AFP.
It stressed “the importance of the mandate of the TIPH and its efforts to foster calm in a highly sensitive area and fragile situation on the ground, which risks further deteriorating, as reflected in the escalating cycle of violence.”
The text warned Israel that it has an obligation under international law “to protect the Palestinian civilian population in Hebron” as well as the rest of the West Bank.
The United States, which has firmly defended Israel’s policies at the United Nations, moved quickly to block the proposed response, diplomats said.
Council statements require unanimous approval.
Kuwait’s Ambassador Mansour al-Otaibi said the council would discuss a proposed visit to the West Bank for a close-up look at the situation on the ground.
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 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.