tiph car leaves hebron.
(photo credit: AP)
Looking to demonstrate the dawn of a new era of cooperation between Israelis and Palestinians, officials from both sides held a public ceremony on Monday to sign what otherwise would have been a routine extension of the mandate for the Temporary International Presence in Hebron (TIPH).
With their respective national flags draped behind them, Palestinian Authority negotiator Saeb Erekat and the director-general of the Israeli Foreign Ministry Aaron Abramovich smiled and ceremoniously shook hands at a Jerusalem hotel.
Only last week, Hebron was the site of clashes between settlers and the border police as police forcibly removed two Jewish families who had illegally moved into empty Palestinian shops that abutted the Jewish Avraham Avinu neighborhood.
But on Monday the city, which has often been a flash point of violence between Israelis and Palestinians, was heralded as a place of hope and cooperation between the two parties.
"Such a ceremony is an expression of the importance that Israel attaches to its dialogue with the Palestinian Authority, as well as to the operation of TIPH itself," said Abramovich.
TIPH was formally established in 1997 with the support of Norway, Turkey, Italy, Switzerland, Sweden and Denmark to observe and report on the condition of the Palestinians living in the city. It was created in the aftermath of the 1994 massacre in which Jewish doctor Baruch Goldstein shot dead 29 Palestinians who were praying in a Hebron mosque.
TIPH wasn't immune to the violence in Hebron. Two members of its staff were killed by a Palestinian gunman in 2002 and, in 2006, the staff had to temporarily vacate its offices when riots broke out after the publication of a Danish cartoon that offended Muslims.
The mandate has been extended every half-year since 1997, but in the last seven years, because of tensions between Israelis and Palestinians, each side had signed the document separately.
In opening the ceremony, Norwegian Ambassador Jakken Biorn Lian said "This is the first time since the beginning of the decade that the Mandate of the TIPH is renewed jointly."
This, he said, "reflects the promising political meetings that are now taking place at the highest levels and the new window of opportunity for genuine progress that is now being opened."
"This event is one of many signs of a possible turning of the tide in Israeli-Palestinian relations," and bodes well for an improvement in the situation of Palestinians in Hebron, he added.
The intent of TIPH, Lian told The Jerusalem Post, was to "provide Palestinians with a sense of security. The situation has been tense, things may happen and do happen. The presence of TIPH has sent a signal that 'yes, things are being watched over.'"
Erekat told the audience that the mission was necessary given the hardships of the Palestinians in Hebron. He also called for a revival of the defunct tri-lateral committee of Israelis, Palestinians and TIPH that had operated before 2000.
Sitting in the audience, Hebron's mayor Khaled Osaily, said the words sounded nice but he wanted to see them actually play out in reality given that the Palestinian residents of his city live under a host of military restrictions.
"If there is a new atmosphere, we want to feel it," Osaily told Post. For example, he said, in the last week Israel closed eight Palestinian shops in Hebron. "There is no reason to close them," he said, adding that he wanted to see TIPH play a more active role.
But David Wilder, who heads the Hebron Jewish community and was not at the ceremony, took the opposite stance, saying he would prefer that TIPH leave the city all together.
"It is one of the most anti-Semitic and anti-Israel organizations that exists," said Wilder, who is particularly upset by a TIPH statement last week in which it welcomed the evacuation of the two Jewish families.