France Warns Expulsion of Hebron Monitoring Group Could Exacerbate Tensions

Foreign Ministry statement says international task force prevented clashes in the city, which could now worsen in light of persisting 'Israeli settlement policy'

Palestinians protest Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's decision not to renew the mandate of the Temporary International Presence in Hebron (TIPH), in Hebron, in the West Bank January 30, 2019
\ MUSSA ISSA QAWASMA/ REUTERS

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's decision to expel the international task force monitoring the West Bank city of Hebron could exacerbate tensions in an already tense region, France's Foreign Ministry spokesperson said on Tuesday.

Netanyahu announced last month that Israel would not be renewing the mandate of the Temporary International Presence in Hebron, which ended on January 31.

"We will not allow the presence of an international force that operates against us," Netanyahu said at the time.

A Palestinian girl protests against Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's decision not to renew the mandate of the Temporary International Presence in Hebron (TIPH), in Hebron, in the West Bank January 30, 2019
\ MUSSA ISSA QAWASMA/ REUTERS

The task force's presence "contributes to preventing incidents between Palestinian residents and settlers," said the spokesperson. "This decision could exacerbate tensions on the ground in an already charged security context in Hebron, while the Israeli settlement policy in the city, as well as other parts of the West Bank and Jerusalem, persists."

France "lamented the decision and calls upon Israel to reconsider," said the spokesperson, and entreated Israel and the Palestinians to resume negotiations for a two-state solution – "the only one that can assure a just and sustainable solution to the conflict in accordance with the aspirations of both nations."

The statement concluded by commending the "men and women who served in the TIPH in the last 22 years, often in harsh conditions. Two of them lost their lives in the course of duty."

Several foreign ministries released statements expressing concern over the decision last week.

On Friday, a joint statement signed by the foreign ministers of Norway, Italy, Sweden, Switzerland, and Turkey, strongly objected to "any claims that TIPH acted against Israel," calling them "unacceptable and ungrounded."

It further said not renewing TIPH mandate "undermines one of the few established mechanisms for conflict resolution between Israelis and Palestinians," and emphasized Israel's legal obligations to protect residents of Hebron and the rest of the West Bank.

United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, the European Union and the German Foreign Ministry also released similar statements.

TIPH was established in 1994 following the Goldstein massacare at the Ibrahimi Mosque, when a Jewish man entered the Tomb of the Patriarchs and murdered 29 Muslims at prayer. Its present form was the result of the Oslo Accords Hebron Protocol, which allowed the partial redeployment of Israeli military forces to the part of the city that remained under its control. 

The force was later expanded as part of the Wye River Memorandum, signed in 1998 by Netanyahu, then serving his first term as premier, and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.