Norway warns Israel: Ousting TIPH from Hebron may breach Oslo Accords

PLO official Saeb Erekat decried removal of the TIPH foreign observer force in Hebron and demanded one for the protection of Palestinians in east Jerusalem and the West Bank as well.

Downtown Hebron shopping area in the Palestinian Authority H1 controlled section of the city, February, 2018 (photo credit: BEN BRESKY)
Downtown Hebron shopping area in the Palestinian Authority H1 controlled section of the city, February, 2018
(photo credit: BEN BRESKY)
Israel may have breached the Olso Accords with its decision to oust international observers from Hebron, Norwegian Foreign Minister Ine Eriksen Soereide said on Tuesday.
"The one-sided Israeli decision can mean that the implementation of an important part of the Oslo accords is discontinued," Soereide told Reuters. ”The situation in Hebron is unstable and characterized by conflict."
She spoke one day after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu decided not to renew the mandate of the Temporary International Presence (TIPH) in Hebron, which has monitored alleged Israeli abuses against Palestinians in the city since 1997.
Soereide said that Norway, which led the observer force for those 22 years, found the decision “worrying.”
PLO Secretary-General Saeb Erekat said the decision to abolish TIPH is an “additional step towards Israel’s nullification of all signed agreements, including the Oslo Interim Agreement.”
This step, “further consolidates the Israeli colonial enterprise and represents one further step towards a ‘de jure’ annexation of further areas in the occupied State of Palestine,” Erekat said.
He called on the United Nations to deploy an observer force in east Jerusalem and all of the West Bank in response.
“We call upon the UN to deploy [a] permanent international presence in occupied Palestine, including east Jerusalem, until the end of Israel’s belligerent occupation,” Erekat said.
The United Nations said that it “regretted” the loss of TIPH.
“While the TIPH is not a United Nations body, its role in contributing positively to defusing tensions in such a sensitive area has been widely recognized, including by the General Assembly (most recently in resolution 73/99),” the spokesperson for the UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres said at the a briefing in New York.
“[UN] Special Coordinator Nickolay Mladenov is following developments closely and engaging with the contributing member states as well as with the parties on the ground,” he said.
TIPH is composed of five contributing countries – Sweden, Switzerland, Italy, Norway and Turkey. It has had 13 local staff members and 64 civilian observers on the ground.
TIPH is not a UN body. It was created after a 1994 UN Security Council resolution called for an international observer force in the West Bank to protect Palestinians. The UNSC issued the call after Kiryat Arba resident Baruch Goldstein killed 29 worshipers in the Hebron’s Ibrahimi Mosque in1994.
TIPH observers had been tasked with monitoring Israeli abuses towards Palestinians and helping to ensure compliance with the agreement that split the city, leaving 80% under the auspices of the Palestinian Authority and the other 20% under Israeli military control.
Right-wing politicians have tried to sway Netanyahu to abolish the mission by not renewing the mandate, which is signed twice a year by both Israel and the PA.
Hebron’s Jewish community and right-wing politicians have argued that TIPH incited violence against them. The Palestinians believed that they provided a measure of security against Israel, although some hold that TIPH could do little more than observe.
The PA said that Israel’s decision not to renew the mandate was in violation of agreements signed under the auspices of the international community.
Nabil Abu Rudaineh, spokesman for the PA presidency, said that the decision was “unacceptable” and called on the international community to “take a clear position towards this dangerous Israeli stance.” He also called for extorting pressure on the Israeli government to abide by the agreement by using the presence of TIPH observers in Hebron.
“By ignoring all signed agreements and refusing to fulfill its commitments, Israel is insisting on creating a climate of escalation, tension and chaos in the region – the consequences of which can’t be foreseen,” Abu Rudaineh said.
“This is proof for the International community that Israel does not honor the resolutions of international legitimacy. It’s also a continuation of Israel’s policy of escalation against our people,” he said.
The PA Foreign Ministry also weighed in on Netanyahu’s decision and said it was an attempt to “hide the crimes of the Israeli occupation and its settlers.”
According to the PA ministry, the decision to end the mandate of TIPH is designed to pave the way for the “judaization” of Area C and the Israeli-controlled part of Hebron.
Hebron Jewish community spokesman Yishai Fleisher said that the TIPH observers “created an atmosphere of conflict, not a congenial atmosphere of peace.”
The settlers’ attacks will increase,” said Aref Jaber, a Palestinian resident of Hebron. TIPH’s presence was particularly helpful to schoolchildren, he added, because they patrol the city “in the morning and the afternoon, when children go to and return from school.”
“It is our window to the world. They can show the Israeli occupation’s ugly face – which is definitely annoying to the Israelis,” said Bader Daour, a ceramics merchant in Hebron’s old city.
Reuters contributed to this report.