On Saturday, there was shock that four rockets fired from Gaza landed in Bethlehem and Hebron.
Although the IDF confirmed the attacks and local Palestinians were quoted in the media confirming the attacks, neither Hamas nor any other terror group took “credit,” signaling that the attacks were probably misfires.
Prior to these attacks, one could have already asked the theoretical question of whether Israel had an obligation to use Iron Dome and any other available means to defend Palestinian- controlled West Bank areas from Gaza rocket attacks, errant or not.
But now that the question is not merely rhetorical, it has become all the more pressing.
One might think that the question could become complicated by Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s statements a few weeks ago that the Palestinian Authority controlling the West Bank had responsibility for all terror emanating from Gaza because of its national unity deal with Hamas.
After all, why would Israel need to defend Hamas from its own misfires and if West Bank areas can be tossed in with Hamas because of the national unity deal, one might think the same logic could apply.
The Justice Ministry’s deafening silence on the issue despite repeated requests to explain Israel’s official position would seem to further muddy the waters.
But it would seem that from a legal perspective, Israel is fully obligated to defend the West Bank from Gaza rocket-fire as part of its obligation to defend the West Bank from all external threats and its responsibility for overall security.
There are at least two views on where this obligation emanates from.
Some, such as Hebrew University professor and former Foreign Ministry legal adviser Robbie Sabel, say that the current obligation stems from the Oslo Accords.
Under the various agreements, even in Area A of the West Bank where the Palestinians have total responsibility for internal security and maintaining public order, Israel has responsibility for both overall and external security.
Rocket attacks or any attack that goes beyond what police could defend against falls into the category of external security, Sabel said.
Another international law expert said that the basis predates the Oslo Accords, dating back to the Hague Regulations and the Fourth Geneva Conventions presenting the international law framework to conducting a belligerent occupation.
The expert added that the High Court of Justice has affirmed Israel’s voluntary commitment to the law of belligerent occupation, and more importantly, to responsibility for security issues in the West Bank.
While this position has justified forced removal of Jewish settlers from Gaza in 2005 and requisition of property for the IDF in the West Bank, it would also dictate Israel’s responsibility to protect West Bank Palestinians from external threats – including Gaza rocket fire.
Besides all of the above and any potential moral obligations, some might even say that Israel’s narrowly defined realpolitik interests would push for defending the Palestinian areas in the West Bank from rocket attacks.
The rationale would be that otherwise the Palestinians could demand the right to develop their own antiaircraft measures for defensive purposes – a demand that could degrade the total freedom the air force has had for operating in the West Bank until now.
To what extent the state needs to allocate resources, Iron Dome or otherwise, to defend Palestinian West Bank areas is then a separate policy question that can be raised with any Israeli city, given limited resources and Iron Dome batteries.
But even in that area, in light of the above realpolitik considerations, it might be said that the political echelon might be wary of underestimating the security of Palestinian areas should there be recurring rocket fire against the West Bank.
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