Do Israeli Arrest Raids in the West Bank ‘Violate International Law’?
by Akiva Van Koningsveld
Ever since Israel launched “Operation Break the Wave” in the West Bank following a series of brutal street attacks that killed 31 Israelis in 2022, media pundits and social media users have frequently decried IDF counter-terrorism raids in Palestinian cities and villages, often claiming that these actions somehow violate international law.
In February 2023, Palestinian-American activist Amer Zahr, who also serves as an adjunct professor at the University of Detroit Mercy School of Law, went as far as likening an arrest raid in Nablus to Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine. Meanwhile, the Western-backed Palestinian Authority (PA) explicitly denounced the operation as an “illegal Israeli military raid.”
Under PA rule, places like Nablus and Jenin have once again emerged as terror hotbeds, warranting IDF action aimed at saving the lives of innocent Israelis. In this article, we will explore the legality of Operation Break the Wave under applicable international law and agreements.
What Does “International Law” Even Mean?
As HonestReporting has highlighted before, it is disturbingly common for talking heads, NGOs, and self-declared experts to state that something “violates international law,” but without saying which law it violates, and without providing any substantial legal analysis as to how it contravenes that law.
International law is not “law” in the traditional sense of the word. Rather, it is a combination of treaties and agreements between and among numerous sovereign nations and other subjects of international law. In the case of Israel and the Palestinians, the relevant agreements are the Oslo Accords, a series of interim arrangements forged in the 1990s between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO).
The Oslo Accords effectively constitute legally binding treaties between the Israeli government and the newly-created Palestinian Authority under customary international law.
Per the Oslo process, the Palestinian Authority was given full security and civil control over Area A of the West Bank, which includes all major Palestinian cities and more than half of the local Arab population. Area B came under shared control, while Israel retained complete authority over Area C, which contains all Jewish West Bank communities.
Crucially, the IDF’s withdrawal from Area A was conditioned on the Palestinian leadership vowing to fight terrorism and incitement to hatred.
Indeed, the PA’s responsibility to combat terror is enshrined throughout the Oslo agreements. For example, Article XV(1) of the Interim Agreement states that “[b]oth sides shall take all measures necessary to prevent acts of terrorism, crime and hostilities directed against each other…” The Note for the Record to the Hebron Protocol obliges Ramallah to “[c]ombat systematically and effectively terrorist organizations and infrastructure.” Similar provisions can be found in the Wye River and Sharm el-Sheikh Memoranda.
International law, specifically the Vienna Convention — which codifies universal rules governing treaties — embraces the principle that international agreements are reciprocal. Accordingly, if the PA refuses to act against incessant terrorism emanating from areas under its control in a way that constitutes a “material breach” (which includes “violation of a provision essential to the accomplishment of the object or purpose of the treaty”), Israel would likely be entitled to suspend “in whole or in part” its redeployment from parts of the West Bank.
After all, as emphasized by former US State Department legal adviser Geoffrey R. Watson, “for the Israelis, no provision in the Oslo Accords are more ‘material’ or ‘essential’… than the provisions on security and terrorism.” He adds: “If the Palestinians have indeed failed to carry out these obligations, that failure would be a material breach.”
The Palestinian Authority’s Terror Track Record
So what is the Palestinian police’s recent track record when it comes to fighting terrorist organizations, the conditio sine qua non underlying the Oslo Accords?
First of all, it should be noted that nothing precludes the Palestinian Authority from giving explicit permission to the Israeli side to arrest terror suspects in Area A of the West Bank. In fact, many IDF raids have been carried out in coordination with the PA through Oslo’s official deconfliction mechanism. As then-Israeli defense minister Moshe Ya’alon explained in 2015: “Once we needed a division to enter Jenin. Two days ago, we did it with a small force.” A year earlier, PA President Mahmoud Abbas called the security cooperation with Jerusalem “sacred.”
Yet in recent years, PA police inaction has led to US-designated terror groups, including Hamas and Islamic Jihad, effectively controlling the streets of Jenin, Nablus, and other Palestinian localities, as outlined in HonestReporting’s series “Spotlight on Jenin.”
Furthermore, Abbas’ rhetoric towards the Jewish state has grown increasingly hard-line, with Israeli officials holding the octogenarian leader responsible for the current uptick in violence.
The Palestinian Authority appears to have actively breached its Oslo obligations on countless occasions. For instance, on January 6 of this year, Deputy PA Prime Minister Nabil Abu Rudeineh announced that “security coordination with the occupation government [sic] no longer exists as of now.” Legal scholars say there is little doubt that halting security cooperation would constitute a material breach of Palestinian obligations under the Oslo Accords.
In March, amid another relentless wave of deadly Palestinian attacks, news broke that Abbas instructed his police forces to attack Israelis.
“It’s not a secret that President Mahmoud Abbas instructed the Palestinian security forces not to hesitate and to confront the occupation army and the herds of settlers if they continue with the incursions on our land,” PA spokesman Azem Alhamed was quoted as saying, in what would undoubtedly be another breach of Oslo’s very object and purpose; that is, mutual cooperation in security matters.
Senior PA officials have also glorified and incited acts of terrorism against Israeli civilians; PA Health Minister Mai al-Kaila in October 2022 even sent “praises and respect” to the Lions’ Den terror organization. “We like them, yes. We support them, yes,” added Nablus governor Ibrahim Ramadan on March 4 of this year, in a potential violation of Article XXII(1) of the Interim Agreement.
Obligation To Save Israeli Lives
It is safe to say that the PA’s record of compliance with the Oslo Accords, which are binding agreements under international law, has been poor in recent years, likely to the point where it justifies Israeli countermeasures in accordance with the Vienna Convention. With Ramallah seemingly skirting its obligation to apprehend, prosecute, and jail terrorists, Israeli raids on Palestinian terror hubs are not a “violation of international law.”
On the contrary: the Israeli government has a duty to act against terror groups in the West Bank. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, as adopted by the United Nations, makes it clear that nations should protect the safety and welfare of their own citizens.
Sadly, social media pundits only seem to care about international law when it can be weaponized against the Jewish state.