Will Hebron lose its international observers over Israeli election fever?

The 64-member observer force is financed and staffed by five countries — Italy, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland and Turkey has operated in the section of Hebron under Israeli military rule since 1997.

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November 19, 2018 00:59
3 minute read.
Will Hebron lose its international observers over Israeli election fever?

The site of new Jewish construction in Hebron. (photo credit: TZIPI SHLISEL/TPS)

 
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Ending the mandate of the international observers in Hebron would be a quick way for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to boost his rating with right-wing voters.

Whether Netanyahu heads to early elections or holds onto his coalition, he will have lost points among right-wing voters both for his Gaza restraint and his delay in the demolition of the illegal West Bank Bedouin herding village of Khan al-Ahmar.

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Last week in Paris, Netanyahu said he was would weigh the growing calls among right-wing politicians and settlers to evict the Temporary International Force in Hebron after 21 years.

“With regard to the continuation of TIPH, we will take a decision in December,” Netanyahu said.

The 64-member observer force is financed and staffed by five countries – Italy, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland and Turkey – and has operated in the section of Hebron under Israeli military rule since 1997.

Its staff members, with their gray and blue uniforms, have the freedom to move about the city to observe the conditions under which the Palestinians live and to report on incidents of conflict, but it has no power to intervene.

According to its website, it has written more than 20,000 confidential reports on life in Hebron.

“It would not be complicated to terminate the presence of TIPH,” said Dore Gold, the former Foreign Ministry director-general and now president of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs.

The idea for an international observer force was conceived in 1994 after a Jewish doctor, Baruch Goldstein, killed 29 worshipers in the Ibrahimi Mosque that is part of the Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron.


Gold said that the observer force “is somewhat outdated,” maintains “marginal utility,” and “tends to get into fights with the Jewish community living in Hebron. It raises questions of why it should continue. International peace keeping forces and monitors have generally been a disaster in the Middle East. They run from their positions the moment they are threatened, or in the case of TIPH, instead of maintaining strict neutrality, they identify completely with the Palestinian side and therefore they do not contribute to security and under such conditions are best removed.”

The presence of TIPH is based on a bilateral agreement between Israel and the Palestinian Authority that is renewed twice a year. It does not involve the United Nations, nor it is linked to any other formal agreement.

Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely has been among the politicians leading the charge for TIPH’s removal. She sent a letter to Netanyahu at the end of October and met with him in person to discuss it. Hotovely also spoke out against TIPH in the Knesset last week.

The Land of Israel Knesset caucus sent a letter to the government ministers last week asking that it support the move.

Tensions between TIPH and the Jewish community in Hebron came to a head this summer with publicity around two incidents. In the first, a TIPH staff member slated the tire of a Jewish-owned vehicle in Hebron. In the second, TIPH’s legal counsel slapped a 10-year-old Jewish child. TIPH apologized and both staff members left the organization and the country.

Left-wing groups have argued that TIPH plays an important role in documenting settler violence against Palestinians and that its removal would increase tensions between the two groups in the city.

“Unfortunately, TIPH couldn’t prevent Israel from making Palestinians’ lives unbearable in the Hebron area under its control,” B’Tselem said.

“Most of the Palestinians that lived in that area left because of the severe restriction of movements, curfews, and frequent violence from settlers and the Israeli army. We are horrified to imagine what dark plans the settlers have in mind that they demand to remove the symbolic monitoring presence,” the organization told The Jerusalem Post.

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