Maariv: After 13 years, Israel considering booting Hebron observer force (TIPH)
Ben Caspit, Maariv, January 8 2010 [page 2]
Israel is considering the option of not extending the mandate of the TIPH multi-national mission, which has been stationed in Hebron since the interim agreement signed between Israel and the PLO as part of the Hebron protocol in 1997.
The mandate of the force, which is composed of the representatives of six countries, is renewed every six months, and is due to be renewed at the end of the month. Now, Israel is considering (and not for the first time) the possibility of not extending its mandate.
Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon visited Hebron yesterday, at the direct instructions of Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, in order to examine the situation on the ground. Ayalon confirmed yesterday that the possibility of not extending the mandate was indeed being examined, and appeared realistic. “They are exceeding their mandate,” Ayalon told Ma’ariv. “They report cases of harassment against Palestinians, and do not deal with cases of opposite harassment.”
In addition, Israeli sources say that the extension of the mandate is supposed to be carried out in a festive ceremony with the attendance of representatives from Israel, the Palestinian Authority and TIPH, but the PA has been refusing to hold this ceremony in the past years. “The fact that this force frequently complains against IDF soldiers and serves as infrastructure for many representatives of international organizations who focus on filing complaints against Israel and the IDF, plays a role in the Israeli idea of stopping the mandate,” an informed security source said yesterday to Ma’ariv.
Stopping the mandate of the multi-national force in Hebron could spark an international furor. The timing, in the course of a considerable international effort to renew the negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians, appears particularly problematic. In addition, there is the issue of the force’s makeup: Its members are soldiers from Norway, Sweden, Turkey, Denmark, Italy and Switzerland. With the exception of Italy, all these countries have hit a low of one kind or another in their relations with Israel. It is believed that Foreign Minister Lieberman and his deputy Ayalon view the non-extension of the force’s mandate as an opportunity to harm Sweden and Norway (a Norwegian army general heads the force), which are defined as the two European countries most extreme in their negative attitude towards Israel at the present time. The Turkish issue is even more sensitive, and here too Lieberman has recently said that Turkey must not return to the position of mediator between Israel and Syria.
A classified Foreign Ministry document, which was recently prepared on the performance of the multi-national force, levels harsh criticism at its activity: “Due to the tendentious mandate of the force (protecting the Palestinians), it is clear that the reports (that it issues—BC) deal mainly with criticizing Israel… a certain tension is revealed at times between the Israeli government and the force’s activity, in light of our position that the force sometimes exceeds its mandate, among other things by demands to investigate incidents that took place and/or demands that Israel account for its actions to the donor states, in addition to extensive public relations activity—for example, by means of an impressive web site, which offers forms for Palestinian residents to file complaints against the Israeli authorities.”
The report states further: “The recent assessment reached by the Foreign Ministry following staff work done on the matter by professional echelons is that Israel has no interest as such in the continued activity of the force, but diplomatic circumstances do not enable the termination of its activity and/or non-renewal of its mandate. However, it was agreed that the issue of the force’s continued activity should be examined, within the framework of possibilities that could be raised with the Palestinians in a future dialogue on Hebron.”