Netanyahu tosses observer force out of Hebron after 22 years

"We will not allow an international force to act against us."

Temporary International Presence in Hebron international observers (photo credit: ESTI DESIOVOV/TPS)
Temporary International Presence in Hebron international observers
(photo credit: ESTI DESIOVOV/TPS)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu decided to oust international observers from Hebron on Tuesday, thereby breaking a 22-year agreement that has helped hold in place the 1997 division of the city between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.
The observer force, known as the Temporary International Presence in Hebron (TIPH), operates under a mandate that is renewed twice a year by both sides.
The mandate was due for renewal at the end of this month, but Netanyahu has been under pressure from right-wing politicians and Hebron’s Jewish community not to renew it.
Netanyahu said in November that he would review the situation, and decided on Monday that Israel will no longer support the presence of the 64 international civilian observers from Italy, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland and Turkey.
“We will not allow an international force to act against us,” Netanyahu said in a statement to the press.
The Hebron community immediately thanked Netanyahu and the ministers who persistently spoke out on the matter, including Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely, and Strategic Affairs and Public Safety Minister Gilad Erdan.
“Together we proved that it is possible to bring an end to the injustice and folly that has lasted for many years,” Hebron’s Jewish community said.
Minister of Jerusalem Affairs and Environmental Protection Ze’ev Elkin said: “We don’t need foreign inspectors in the city of our ancestors.”
TIPH is tasked with monitoring compliance with the 1997 agreement that split the city of over 220,000 Palestinians, handing 80% of it to the Palestinian Authority and maintaining 20% under Israeli military control.
Its observers operated mainly in the section under Israeli military control, where the Jewish community of about a thousand people lives. TIPH produced reports about alleged Israeli abuses against Palestinians, and patrolled the city to give the Palestinians a sense of security.
Prior to Netanyahu’s decision, Erdan had handed him a secret report on TIPH.
On Monday night, Erdan issued a congratulatory statement in which he also charged that TIPH member had interfered with the work of IDF soldiers and the police, created friction with the settlers, and cooperated with extremist left-wing organizations that promote the delegitimization of Israel.
It was a charge he had already issued in the past as part of a campaign against TIPH.
That campaign had relied heavily on two highly publicized incidents that were caught on video. In the first, TIPH’s legal counsel can be seen slapping a 10-year-old Jewish child in Hebron across the face. The second showed a staff member slashing a tire of a car belonging to a Jewish resident in Hebron.
The spokesman for Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas slammed the move, noting that it proved Israeli contempt for international agreements.
“The Israeli government’s decision means it has abandoned the implementation of agreements signed under international auspices, and given up its obligations under these agreements,” said Nabil Abu Rudeineh.
A TIPH spokesman declined comment.
Reuters contributed to this report.