Hebron’s international observers accede to Israel’s demand to end mission

On Thursday, PLO Secretary-General Saeb Erekat had called on the counties that had staffed the mission – Norway, Italy, Sweden, Switzerland and Turkey – to insist on maintaining their observer role.

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February 2, 2019 22:15
3 minute read.
A Palestinian girl shakes hands with a member of the Temporary International Presence in Hebron TIPH

A Palestinian girl shakes hands with a member of the Temporary International Presence in Hebron (TIPH) in the Palestinian H1 side of the city during a protest against Israel's decision not to renew their mandate, January 30, 2019. (photo credit: MUSSA QAWASMA/REUTERS)

 
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The five countries that make up the Temporary International Presence in Hebron (TIPH) ceded on Friday to Israel’s demand that they end their 22-year-old observer mission in the West Bank city that is often a flashpoint for violence.

On Thursday PLO Secretary-General Saeb Erekat had called on the counties that had staffed the mission — Norway, Italy, Sweden, Switzerland and Turkey — to insist on maintaining their role as international observers.

“I want to ask the countries involve in TIPH to really coordinate among themselves and to refuse the Israeli decision, because Israel cannot from one side cancel the agreement,” Erekat said.

The foreign ministers of the five countries, however, issued a joint statement on Friday in which they explained that they had no choice but to cease the mission’s operations.

TIPH existed under a mandate that had been renewed twice a year by Israel and the Palestinian Authority, the ministers said.
“The PLO signed the agreement to renew the TIPH mandate. We are prepared to continue the Mission if requested by both parties,” the foreign ministers said, adding that it was, however, not possible to do so without Israel’s signature.

“From 1 February 2019, the TIPH lacks a mandate to perform its duties as previously requested by both parties.

“The TIPH will therefore close down in an orderly, safe and dignified manner within a realistic time frame. We call on both parties to assist and facilitate the TIPH through this process and remind them of their responsibilities for the security and inviolability of the TIPH,” the foreign ministers said.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu decided to end TIPH’s mandate after a pro-longed campaign by right-wing politicians and Hebron’s 800-member Jewish community, which had argued that the organization was far from being a neutral observer. They charged that TIPH was anti-Israeli and had incited violence against the city’s Jews.

The case against TIPH in the media relied heavily on two incidents; one in which a TIPH staff member slashed the tire of a Jewish-owned vehicle in the city, and the second in which TIPH’s legal counsel slapped a 10-year Jewish child in Hebron across the face. Both staff members were asked to leave Israel.


The five foreign ministers said they regretted Israel’s unilateral decision not to renew the TIPH’s mandate. They added that they “strongly object to any claim that the TIPH has acted against Israel. Such claims are unacceptable and ungrounded.”

TIPH has fulfilled its mandate in Hebron by preventing violence and makings its residents there feel more secure, the ministers said.
The ministers explained that TIPH was established in 1997 “pursuant to a provision in the Interim Agreement (Oslo II Accord) signed by Israel and the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) in 1995 (Annex I, Article VII, Paragraph 10), witnessed by the US, the EU, the Russian Federation, Egypt and Jordan.”

“The Israeli decision to withdraw from the agreement with the PLO and thereby terminate the TIPH constitutes a departure from the Oslo II Accord of 1995,” the foreign ministers said.

The situation in Hebron is fragile and TIPH was “one of the few established mechanisms for conflict resolution between Israelis and Palestinians,” the ministers said.

TIPH’s departure may have a negative effect on the situation in Hebron and Israel is obligated under international law to protect the Palestinians in that city and elsewhere in the West Bank, the ministers said.

They called on Israel to reach a peace deal with the Palestinians to end the conflict between them.

The European Union on Friday issued its second statement of the week against Israel’s decision. Germany and Great Britain also issued individual country statements.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said he hoped that it would still be possible to salvage TIPH’s mission.

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