Members of the Temporary International Presence in Hebron (TIPH) (Photo: HAZEM BADER/AFP/Getty Images)

Israel Won’t Renew Mandate for Hebron Observer Force

PM Binyamin Netanyahu alleges the contingent is ‘working against us’

Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has refused to extend the mandate of a contingent of international observers that have been stationed in the West Bank city of Hebron for almost 25 years, citing its bias against Israel.

The observers, known as the Temporary International Presence in Hebron (TIPH), were deployed to monitor and record incidents between the city’s roughly 100,000 Palestinian residents and the small Jewish enclave of about 800. Reflecting this divide, the Palestinian Authority controls 80% of Hebron while Israel controls the areas where its citizens live, including the Tomb of the Patriarchs as it is known to Jews; Muslims call it the Sanctuary of Abraham.

The TIPH consists of observers from Denmark, Italy, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland and Turkey.

“We will not allow the extension of the presence of an international force that is working against us,” Prime Minister Netanyahu’s media office quoted him as saying.

Asaad al-Awiwi, a Palestinian instructor of politics at al-Quds Open University in Hebron, told The Media Line that “they [the TIPH observers] are simply doing their job; that’s why they are supposedly working against Israel.”  The observers have documented what they see taking place on the ground, including Israeli violations, and this is what bothers Netanyahu, he contended. “The move is a very dangerous indicator of what kind of intentions the Israelis have over Hebron,” adding that Israel’s “occupation of the city affords it all kinds of above-the-law options.”

According to al-Awiwi, Israel has a strategic aim to cleanse Palestinians from Hebron’s Old City where the TIPH witnessed daily transgressions by the Israeli army and civilians against Palestinian residents.

“They [Israelis] are working to make social life for Palestinians in the city almost impossible,” he added, pointing to the infamous attack in 1994, the reason for the deployment of the observers in the first place.

In that year during Ramadan, Baruch Goldstein, an Israeli-American doctor, opened fire on Palestinian worshippers inside an area of The Cave of the Patriarchs that was serving as a mosque, killing 29 and injuring 150. Thereafter, Israel divided it into two sections—The Ibrahimi Mosque and a synagogue—with separate entrances. “Goldstein was protected by the Israeli army when he did what he did,” al-Awiwi claimed.

The holy site, the traditional burial place of Abraham, has long been a flash-point for Israeli-Palestinian violence. A formal arrangement to share it was reached in 1997 with Jews and Muslims each getting sole access to the site during their respective religious holidays.

From its side, the PA affirmed that Israel’s refusal to extend the observers’ mission entails the abandonment of agreements signed under international auspices. “In this way, Israel relinquishes its obligations which we will not accept at all,” Nabil Abu Rudeina, a spokesman for the PA, stated in a recent publication.

Abu Rudeina also called on international mediators to voice disapproval of Prime Minister Netanyahu’s “dangerous” decision and ramp up pressure on the Israeli government to abide by its agreements. “Israel’s refusal to comply with its commitments creates an atmosphere of escalation,” he added.

Yitzhak Bin Gonen, who previously worked for an Israeli security agency, argues that any decision by the Israeli premier at this time is related to the April 9 national elections. “Netanyahu is making decisions at the expense of Israel’s security needs to promote himself,” he said, explaining that the premier is competing with right-wing candidates by making right-wing decisions which are “not wise and can be dangerous.” Bin Gonen added that Netanyahu “is also taking advantage of the people of Hebron for his election campaign.”

Palestinian Chief Negotiator Saeb Erekat called upon the United Nations to guarantee the safety and protection of Palestinians in the area. “The permanent international presence should be deployed in Palestine, including east Jerusalem, until the end of Israel’s belligerent occupation.”

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