Saeb Erekat, secretary general of the PLO executive committee, called on the UN Thursday to prevent Israel from expelling the international body of observers, Temporary International Presence in Hebron (TIPH), from the West Bank city, after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu decided earlier in the week not to extend the organization’s mandate.
Erekat called a press conference at the PLO headquarters in Ramallah and said the Palestinian Authority is talking with the UN and with the five nations comprising TIPH, namely Italy, Sweden, Turkey, Switzerland and Norway, to prevent implementation of the Israeli decision. “These nations must decide if Israel is above international law. It cannot do as it pleases in the international arena and not honor extant, signed agreements,” Erekat said.
He also took a swipe at U.S. President Donald Trump, claiming that the move had been coordinated with the United States and that Trump is taking part in putting pressure on the PA. “It may be a superpower but nobody will bend us and we will not retreat from our positions,” Erekat said. Just last year, he added, the U.S. had cut over $800 million for the PA, whether in direct aid or indirectly, doing this after recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. “We are not prepared to forgo our principles,” he said. “Former President Roosevelt said the White House is a house of values. The White House should be run by diplomats, not real estate agents.”
Addressing Arab leaders and Islamic nations, Erekat said the process of recognizing and normalizing relations with Israel is sticking a knife into the Palestinians’ backs. “Anybody who thinks or buys the story that doing this helps us is very wrong,” he said. “Anybody acknowledging the American position that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel is denying the Al-Aqsa mosque and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.”
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Many left-wing entities declined to issue statements following the announcement ending TIPH’s mandate in Hebron, for one reason – as many admitted off-the-record – because in practice, the organization does very little.
Settlers in Hebron applauded the decision. In recent months the organization’s people had become especially loathed, after dissemination of a security camera tape showing one of them slashing the tires on a settler’s car, and another video showing a TIPH operative slapping a child in the settlement. These images bolstered the demand by settlement supporters on the right that the force be expelled from Hebron.
Issa Amro, among the more prominent Palestinian activists in Hebron, rejected the claims that TIPH was undisciplined. “They were very important in the city for the Palestinians living there, from the perspective of security,” he told Haaretz earlier this week. “The settlers are very violent and the soldiers don’t do a thing to them. Soldiers cannot protect us from the settlers, and TIPH tried. I don’t think they harmed the public or the Israeli soldiers. They tried to change the situation on the ground.”
Amro added that with TIPH’s mandate ended, “We will see more Israeli violence in Hebron.”
Last month it was reported that TIPH, which was established to monitor Israeli-Palestinian tensions in Hebron, produced a comprehensive internal report sharply criticizing Israel’s actions in the city. People who saw the report told Haaretz that the classified report lists violations of international law by Israel, and describes Hebron as a city suffering under the occupation by Israel and the settlers. The report found that Israel restricts freedom of movement and the right of worship for Palestinians living in Area H2, where Palestinians and Israelis live in close proximity to each other.
TIPH was founded jointly by Israel and the Palestinian Authority under the Wye agreements signed in 1998 between Yasser Arafat and Netanyahu, in his first term as prime minister. The original version of TIPH began following the massacre by Baruch Goldstein in the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron, where he murdered 29 Muslim worshippers.
This article was amended on February 7, 2019.