(February 5, 2019 / JNS)
In 1997, Israel and the Palestinian Authority signed what became known as the Hebron Agreement. The agreement divided Hebron into areas H1 (81 percent of the city) and H2 (19 percent of the city). The Palestinian Authority took complete control over H1 while Israel retained security control over H2, which includes the Cave of the Patriarchs and the city’s Jewish community.
As part of this agreement, a mandate was created for an observer force, the Temporary International Presence in Hebron, or TIPH.
Its original mandate was for members to travel around the city, observe what was happening, and report their findings to the Israeli and Palestinian Authority governments. The observers were not allowed to intervene in disputes nor any incidents they observed; they were supposed to be neutral and unbiased.
TIPH’s role was intended to help each side understand what was going on in an objective way so they could address issues together and provide equitable solutions to both sides. Unfortunately, as has been proven time and again, international involvement in Israel and unbiased results do not go hand in hand.
While in theory, TIPH’s mission was noble, in reality, the countries sending representatives to implement it were anything but. During the past 22 years of their presence in Hebron, these “unbiased observers” have been filmed assaulting members of the Jewish community, destroying Jewish property and repeatedly creating provocations so they would have what to observe and write reports about.
TIPH and the European countries that supported it proved that their actual mission was to directly affect the situation in Hebron. Their goal was to bring an end to the Jewish presence in Hebron forever. Thankfully, they can no longer work toward this goal as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu recently announced that he will not be extending TIPH’s mandate.
Unfortunately, there is still another glaring affront to Israeli sovereignty that the prime minister has been unwilling or uninterested in removing. Khan al-Ahmar is an illegal Arab settlement built with funding and encouragement from the European Union and many European countries. This settlement sits on the main road connecting the Jordan Valley to Jerusalem.
Its location is crucial as it sits on a choke point between Israel’s heartland and its eastern border. This settlement is the first step of the Salam Fayyad plan, which was devised by the former prime minister of the Palestinian Authority to create a series of Arab settlements that would cut off Israel from its eastern border with Jordan.
The Israeli government’s unwillingness to demolish this Arab settlement is worrisome for two primary reasons: First, it is a blatant invasion of Israeli sovereignty by European powers; second, it is a tacit acceptance of the Fayyad plan, which effectively means abandoning our eastern border.
To remove any doubts about this being a human-rights issue, the Israeli government has already prepared an alternative site for Khan al-Ahmar’s inhabitants. The new site is a major upgrade on the current conditions in which they live. It has paved roads, running water, electricity and a proper school building—all of which are lacking in Khan al-Ahmar. It is in the same geographic area and provides the inhabitants with easier access to their grazing lands.
Clearly, Khan al-Ahmar is not a human-rights issue.
The Israeli government’s current policy of ignoring the Supreme Court’s orders to dismantle this illegal Arab settlement is short-sighted. While appeasing European countries might have some short-term benefits, it is bereft of the moral obligation to the Israeli people, and like various attempts at appeasement throughout history, it will come back to haunt us.
It is the Israeli government’s overriding responsibility to protect its sovereignty and independence on its lands.
The prime minister’s recent decision to end TIPH’s mandate in Hebron is a step forward in ending the foreign infringement on Israeli sovereignty. The next step is to see that similar action is taken on the issue of Khan al-Ahmar.
Ari Kalker is the director of English programming at Im Tirtzu.