The US has said that Israel had "every right" to expel a UN monitoring force from the occupied West Bank city of Hebron.
US State Department spokesman Robert Palladino yesterday said that it was Israel's right not to renew the mandate of the Temporary International Presence in Hebron (TIPH), a UN body which monitors the situation in Hebron in the occupied West Bank. TIPH's mandate must be renewed every six months by Israel and the Palestinian Authority (PA) under the 1997 Interim Agreement, which was signed in the wake of the Oslo Accords.
Palladino told a US press briefing that:
Regardless of whether one agrees or disagrees with the Israeli decision not to renew [TIPH's mandate], it would be inaccurate to accuse Israel of not having the right to make this decision under the 1997 agreement. This is a sovereign decision and it's the right of either party to make that agreement.
The spokesman was responding to questions on the US' decision yesterday to block a proposed UN Security Council statement expressing regret over Israel's decision to expel TIPH. Palladino did not waver in his position, saying again that the 1997 agreement "clearly states that the consent of both the Israelis and the Palestinians is required in order to extend the mandate and presence of the TIPH," Arutz Sheva reported.
The Security Council had convened at the request of Kuwait and Indonesia, which had called for a statement to be discussed which would condemn Israel's unilateral withdrawal from the agreement and call for "calm and restraint" in Hebron. However, the US had quickly moved to block the discussion, in a move seen as yet another bid to protect its key ally Israel from condemnation and repercussions at the UN.
A number of countries have criticised Israel's decision to expel TIPH, including Norway and Turkey. Fatah – the Palestinian faction which dominates the PA – also lambasted the move, saying that "the only explanation for the Israeli decision is that it plans to seize the [Hebron's] Old City and the Ibrahimi Mosque". The PA also called on the UN to protect Palestinians in Hebron, saying the international body must "guarantee the safety and protection of the people of Palestine" until "the end of Israel's belligerent occupation".
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced his decision to expel TIPH from Hebron last week, saying he would "not allow the continued presence of an international force that acts against us [Israel]". Netanyahu did not however elaborate on the ways in which TIPH had acted against Israel, nor did he provide evidence of his claims.
Israeli politicians had long been pressuring Netanyahu to act against TIPH. Earlier in January, Israel's Public Security and Strategic Affairs Minister, Gilad Erdan, sent a letter to Netanyahu to push him to make the decision. Erdan wrote that TIPH is "hostile to Israel rather than a neutral force, and is harmful to both the Israeli soldiers stationed in Hebron and the [illegal] Jewish settlers that live there".
Erdan also linked his opposition to the UN monitoring force to his long-time battle against the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, saying: "It is no wonder that a force, composed of […] pro-Palestinian countries that sponsor boycotts [of Israel] such as Sweden and Norway, interferes with IDF soldiers and police, creates friction with the settlers, cooperates with radical organisations and promotes the delegitimisation of Israel."