(January 29, 2019 / JNS) Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu first alluded to his plans to put an end to the Temporary International Presence in Hebron upon returning from an official visit to Chad two weeks ago. Asked about TIPH, he noted, “I have to be proactive in order to renew the mandate. I’m usually a proactive person, but I can’t promise to be proactive on this issue.”
According to the agreement between Israel and the observer countries, Israel’s foreign minister must renew the civilian observer mission’s mandate to operate in Hebron every six months. And Israel has done just that for years on end because, as so often happens in governmental systems, a subject that should have been up for discussion quickly becomes the default. And old habits are hard to break.
But what was once automatic can eventually shift into neutral. This is precisely what happened when Netanyahu, who in 1996 signed off on the agreement and has since repeatedly renewed the missions’ mandate, ordered the observers out.
There will be those who will say the decision was only made because of the upcoming elections. But anyone familiar with the deliberations inside the Israeli political system, the dozens of requests to put an end to TIPH’s activity from across the right and Netanyahu’s deep emotional commitment towards the Jewish residents of Hebron—in particular because he was the one to sign off on the agreement at the time—anyone familiar with all of this knows that this about more than just the upcoming elections.
The decision to send the observers home will obviously result in some tensions with their countries of origin, but that’s nothing worth losing any sleep over.
TIPH was mainly a means for employing former members of the military and political activists from Europe, who found themselves high-paying jobs financed by taxpayers back home. At a time when no country can claim a government budget surplus, it’s safe to say that no one will be sad to see them sent home.
Ariel Kahana is a diplomatic correspondent for Israel Hayom.