What was the Hebron Protocol and Agreement in 1997?
Hebron, the traditional birthplace of the biblical patriarch Abraham, is home to approximately 450 Jews and 150,000 Palestinians. It is the only West Bank city with a Jewish presence in the midst of a Palestinian majority. Just outside Hebron is the settlement of Kiryat Arba with approximately 5,000 Jewish residents. Jews have lived continually in Hebron from the biblical period until today, with the brief exception of the years 1929-1967 when the Jewish community was destroyed and the Jews driven out. After Judea and Samaria were recaptured by Israel in the 1967 Six Day War, Rabbi Moshe Levinger led a group of ten Jewish families to settle in Hebron and eventually develop Kiryat Arba. The Jews living in Hebron today have deep ideological convictions regarding maintaining the city’s Jewish presence.
The violent history of Jewish-Muslim relations in Hebron, however, did not begin in 1929, nor did it renew itself only with the liberation of the city by Israeli forces in 1967. In 1266 the Islamic Mameluke rulers of Hebron barred Jews from entering the Tomb of the Patriarchs, allowing them only to ascend to the fifth and later the infamous seventh step outside the eastern wall. In 1517, a violent pogrom which resulted in numerous deaths, rapes, and the plundering of Jewish homes was perpetrated by local Arab Hebronites when the city was conquered by the Ottoman Turks. In 1775, the Hebron Jewish community was falsely accused of murdering the son of a local sheikh and forced to pay exorbitant taxes under the threat of violence. In 1834 a vicious pogrom against the Jews ensued during Mohammed Ali's rebellion against the Ottomans (1831-1840). In 1994, an Israeli from Kiryat Arba shot Palestinians who were at prayer services at the Tomb of the Patriarchs, resulting in demands for Hebron security guarantees from Palestinians. The 1995 Israeli-Palestinian Interim Agreement on the West Bank and the Gaza Strip ("Oslo II"), included a provision for further negotiations regarding Israeli redeployment from Hebron, suggesting the establishment of a Temporary International Presence in Hebron (TIPH). During the period between the conclusion of Oslo II and the Hebron agreement, the two sides invited Norway to sent a group of 50-60 Norwegians to act as an "advance TIPH" preparing for the new TIPH to be established following the redeployment. Under an agreement dated May 9, 1996, the Norwegian personnel arrived and commenced their operation in the city, preparing for the establishment for the new TIPH, contributing to a feeling of security for the Palestinian inhabitants of the city, helping promote stability, and providing reports. In 1996, riots and violence had brought the Israeli-Palestinian peace process to the precipice of collapse. But faith in the Peace Process continued and on January 15, 1997 the Hebron negotiations were completed and a Protocol concerning the Redeployment in Hebron was signed by Israel and the Palestinians, specifying arrangements for the implementation of the remaining redeployment provisions of the Oslo II Interim Agreement in three phases, ending no later than late 1998. That included Israeli troop withdrawals from 80 percent of Hebron, the last West Bank city under Israeli occupation. US Secretary of State Warren Christopher witnessed the signing of the Hebron Protocol by Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu and Yasser Arafat and spoke optimistically about the prospects for "just and lasting peace [that] will be established between Israelis and Palestinians in the near future." But the Hebron Protocol did not improve the situation in Hebron itself, not for the Palestinians, who wanted not 80% but 100%, and not for the settlers, who felt abandoned by the troop withdrawal from most of Hebron. Following the signing of the Hebron Protocol the two sides also signed, on January 21, 1997, an Agreement on the Temporary International Presence in the city of Hebron setting out the arrangements for the new TIPH, to be up to 180 persons from Norway, Italy, Denmark Sweden, Switzerland and Turkey, with Norway being responsible for the coordination of the TIPH's activity. The task of the TIPH is to monitor and report with no military or police functions. The Hebron Agreement had the odd feature of bringing a third party, the TIPH, into the arena with the Israelis and the Palestinians. This was in response to the Israeli terrorist Baruch Goldstein, who in 1994 killed 29 Palestinian worshipers in Hebron. This outrageous act so undermined the confidence of the Israelis that they agreed to the Palestinian demand for an outside observer in Hebron. The Hebron Agreement was far from completely satisfactory to Israel and represented some significant gains for the Palestinians. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu , by accepting the agreement, betrayed some of his Likud supporters who thought he would never negotiate away rights of settlers in the ancient Jewish community of Hebron. With this agreement, Likud also endorsed the Labor policy of trading "land for peace", another victory for Arafat. The Israelis did gain some from the agreement, in the details of the redeployment arrangements and in the right of Jewish settlers to remain in Hebron. One thing the Israelis did not get was control of the size of the redeployments, notwithstanding American reassurance after Hebron that the size of future redeployments would be decided unilaterally by Israel.