Following a statement from Israeli officials condemning an international observation mission, UN Secretary General António Guterres has expressed his disappointment with the situation. Guterres has stated that he hopes an agreement can soon be reached in order to protect Palestinians in the occupied West Bank.
Currently, ardent Israeli protesters of Palestinian territory are building what they call settlements in the West Bank. These settlements are an act of passive aggression against the Palestinian occupancy of land that they believe to be theirs. In the West Bank, there are approximately 600 Jewish settlers living in territory occupied by over 200 000 Palestinians, and settlements of this nature are protected heavily by an intensive military guard.
It is the aggression of these Israeli settlers that poses a concern for the international community with regards to the safety of the Palestinian population. Under international law, settlements such as these are considered illegal. Furthermore, they add to the many complexities of this conflict due to their presence on land perceived as part of the future Palestinian state.
Hebron is one city on the West Bank with a considerable Palestinian majority. The international observation mission is made up of 64 observers whose job it is to promote and encourage peace and non-violence in the city. This Temporary International Presence in Hebron is made up of participants from Switzerland, Sweden, Norway, Italy, and Turkey, and the operation carries out daily patrols of the contended area. They are permitted to document human rights abuses; however, they are not permitted to intervene in any way. These documented abuses are then reported to all member nations of the operation as well as the relevant Israeli and Palestinian authorities.
The Temporary International Presence in Hebron was conceived following the deaths of 29 Palestinian worshippers shot in a Mosque by an American-born Israeli settler in 1994. Such a reporting system is non-invasive and is an effective way to increase accountability and transparency in such a volatile region.
However, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu condemns the Temporary International Presence in Hebron as biased and unfair. He perceives the land occupied by Palestinians to be part of the nation he leads, and therefore any organisation or operation with the intent of protecting this occupation and its population are not taken lightly. Palestinian officials have interpreted Netanyahu’s suspension of the mandate for this mission as a “green light” for Israelis to carry out more abuses such as the shooting mentioned above.
Guterres is now in a difficult position. While he has expressed that he is “grateful” to the countries that were involved in the conflict prevention and protection of Palestinians under the Temporary International Presence in Hebron, the United Nations is now at a loss regarding the safety of these individuals. The mere presence of these settlements, while passive in nature, indicates a passion and intensity for the land that could very easily devolve into more violence. It is imperative that this issue is addressed with urgency due to the unpredictability of the situation.
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