Amidst fierce opposition from political rivals in the Israeli government, the Palestinian National Authority (PA) has made a successful bid to join Interpol. The State of Palestine is now one of the newest members to be admitted into the ranks of the international policing body.
INTERPOL’s 2017 General Assembly in Beijing has ended with the admission of two new members into the organization: the Solomon Islands and the State of Palestine. Despite a failed application last year – which was suspended largely as a result of Israeli lobbying – Palestinian politicians persevered. Their resilience was instilled by the UN’s 2012 decision to upgrade the State’s status from “entity” to “non-member observer state,” the same level in which the Holy See dwells, granting Palestine the amplified ability to participate in global dealings. Admission into INTERPOL is the most recent incarnation of Palestine’s struggle for international recognition, which has long been opposed by some of the most powerful political bodies in the world, including Israel and her allies in NATO.
Despite opposition, over 75% of the voting members at INTERPOL’s Beijing conference voted in favour of admitting Palestine into the organization. Such a result has been interpreted as a reflection of a paradigm shift in global politics. Palestinian Foreign Affairs Minister Riyad al-Maliki stated, “Palestine’s membership is the outcome of members defending this organization’s raison d’être and advancing its core values,” he said in a statement discussing INTERPOL’s decision, adding that it is “a clear rejection of attempts at cynical manipulation and political bullying.”
Joining INTERPOL will enable Palestinian police forces to combat crime that crosses international borders more efficiently, such as terrorism and human/drug trafficking. Being a member, Palestinian forces will now have access to shared, internationally-managed criminal databases and the resources of fellow member states. Ultimately, Palestine will benefit from INTERPOL’s function to facilitate cooperation across borders, simplifying the exchange of information, and allowing the issuing of “red notices,” which is an alert to global police to locate and arrest specific individuals. It is this new capacity to influence international policing bodies that worries Israeli politicians.
Israeli opposition to INTERPOL’s decision is supposedly a result of Palestinian officials refusing to negotiate with Israel regarding nationhood and its relationship with Israel. According to Alan Baker, a former Israeli diplomat, Palestine’s various bids to join international organizations are an attempt to supersede the proper channels; “They’re trying to achieve the end result, which is a state, through international organizations.” Rather than viewing Palestine’s entry into INTERPOL as a victory for increasing international cooperation, Israeli officials regularly view it as an attempt by Palestine to bend the rules in her favour.
A major point of contention, as highlighted by Israeli detractors, is the issue of red notices. Israeli officers state that these could be used to fulfil Palestinian political agendas. For example, Palestine could issue them against a variety of Israeli politicians who are accused of war crimes. Said notices, however, cannot legally compel any member state to arrest an individual, as they are merely a notice and not a warrant. Concerns also exist around sharing confidential information which, it is feared, could be misused. Israel suspects that it could be used to potentially assist accused terrorists, of which Palestine is accused of harbouring.
According to the Chicago Tribune, Bruno Min, an officer at European human rights organization Fair Trials, stated that these fears were misplaced. “Almost every country in the world is a member of INTERPOL, with the notable exception of North Korea.” It includes “Saudi Arabia, Eritrea, Syria, Yemen, Iran. [T]hese are all member countries I’m assuming for Israel would be not particularly friendly countries.” As such, it is abundantly clear that Israel’s opposition to Palestine’s membership is founded in political rhetoric rather than well-placed fears.
Since Palestine’s upgraded UN status in 2012, it has been admitted into multiple supranational governmental and non-governmental organizations, including UNESCO and the ICC. This has increasingly enabled the governing body to provide its people with more modern services whilst also ensuring the continued survival of the state and its culture through internationally facilitated education, cultural, economic, and political programs. Furthermore, the growing membership enjoyed by the Palestinian State holds legal implications for its future, with increasing international and non-governmental recognition streamlining further entry into other international bodies.
According to Palestinian official Jibril Rajoub, Palestine, as a political entity, is ultimately trying to “be in all of the international institutions, including INTERPOL, as an organized state.” This goal reveals the importance of statehood recognition to Palestine. In achieving this, Palestine can act as an official party to international dealings, which will provide benefits to the people and state. Jibril Rajoub, while speaking to AFP News Agency, highlighted the importance of this recognition in regional politics, stating that Palestine can only contribute to the “security and stability in the region and in the international community.”
INTERPOL’s decision is thus important not only for Palestine, but for the wider state of international relations. As Palestine moves closer to official, global recognition as a sovereign state, with its implications for Israel (who views the PA as a mere interim custodian for the Palestinian Territories), the international community must prepare to handle the nuances of this change in a manner that obstructs further conflict while safeguarding state capacity to develop and participate.
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