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September 29, 2017 3:21 pm

Palestinian Membership in Interpol Could Mark Latest Arrest for the Peace Process

avatar by Sean Savage / JNS.org

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Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas addresses the UN General Assembly last week. Photo: UN.

JNS.org – In the absence of peace negotiations, the Palestinian Authority (PA) has sought unilateral recognition of statehood from different entities in recent years. This week, Interpol — the world’s second-largest international organization after the United Nations — voted to accept Palestinian membership. The move marked the latest diplomatic setback for Israel on this front.

Israel had campaigned against the vote, arguing that the PA’s support for terrorism would undermine Interpol’s efforts. The US also opposed Palestinian membership in Interpol, and assisted Israel with challenging Ramallah’s bid.

Nonetheless, the PA won — and PA Foreign Minister Riyad al-Maliki hailed the vote as a “victory” for Palestinians.

“The State of Palestine considers this membership and the responsibilities that it entails as an integral part of its responsibility towards the Palestinian people and a moral commitment to the citizens of the world,” he said.

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Israel has expressed concern that the Palestinians might abuse their membership, and use Interpol as a platform for undermining the Jewish state — including by demanding the extradition of Israeli officials or pursuing other legal action against them. Such action would be based on the Palestinian claim that Israel’s settlement enterprise is a “crime.”

Professor Eugene Kontorovich, the head of the international law department at Jerusalem’s Kohelet Policy Forum, said that Palestinian acceptance into Interpol will weaken prospects for future peace negotiations with Israel.

“Palestinian membership will only solidify their goal of seeking the trappings of statehood without negotiations and concessions,” he said. “It will strengthen their conviction that they can violate agreements like [the] Oslo [Accords] with impunity.”

Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu met with the Trump administration’s international negotiations representative, Jason Greenblatt, and US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman on September 27, and warned that recent Palestinian moves, such as joining Interpol, will not go unchallenged.

According to a statement from the Prime Minister’s Office, Netanyahu told Greenblatt that “the actions of the Palestinian leadership in recent days severely impairs the chances of achieving peace and added that the Palestinian diplomatic warfare would not go unanswered.”

According to former Israeli Ambassador to Canada Alan Baker — who heads the Institute for Contemporary Affairs at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs — Interpol’s vote to admit the Palestinians is “indicative of the total insensitivity of the international community, which out of political correctness and an incomprehensible eagerness to coddle the Palestinian leadership, fails to realize that in so doing, they are giving the Palestinians a green light and license to incite and to reward terror.”

At Interpol’s annual General Assembly that convened this year in Beijing, the Palestinian membership bid was approved with 75 countries voting in favor, 24 voting against and 34 abstaining.

While Interpol does not have any police powers itself, it is an international association of governments with the mission of assisting and coordinating law enforcement activities across its member states. Based in Lyon, France, Interpol now has 192 member states.

Interpol says that its job is to help police forces in different countries work together to solve crimes that cross borders.

“Every member country has their own Interpol office, called a National Central Bureau (NCB), which connects that country’s police force with the other members,” Interpol’s website says. “They share information with each other and have access to a variety of high-tech tools and resources.”

Kontorovich believes that the Palestinians could use Interpol for aggressive behavior against Israel, but that, ultimately, Palestinian membership will not have any real legal repercussions for the Jewish state.

“They can use it to issue harassing ‘red notices’ — arrest requests — which have no binding legal obligation, but [which] will be vexatious and distracting,” he said.

Jewish communal and legal organizations also expressed concern about the Palestinians acceptance into Interpol — especially the timing. The Palestinians were admitted in the wake of the deadly terror attack in Har Adar on September 26.

“It is unconscionable that the Palestinian Authority, only a day after a major terrorist attack in Israel, is being rewarded by being welcomed into an organization whose whole raison d’être is to fight international crime and terror,” Dr. Moshe Kantor, president of the European Jewish Congress, said in a statement.

“The Palestinian Authority must meet standardize[d] criteria before even approaching Interpol membership,” he said.

Similarly, the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) called Palestinian acceptance at Interpol “premature,” and said that the move hurts chances for an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal. The Interpol vote “must be seen as the latest step in the ongoing Palestinian campaign to seek international recognition as a state outside the context of bilateral negotiations with Israel,” said Sharon Nazarian, the ADL’s senior vice president for international affairs.

Kontorovich said that unilateral moves will not help the Palestinians attain actual statehood, but at the same time, developments like the Interpol episode illustrate the strategic failure of Israel’s current approach to Palestinian statehood campaigns.

“Israel has to win every time, the Palestinians only need to win once,” he said. “Israel’s diplomatic defeat shows the weakness of its purely reactive, defensive diplomatic posture. Unless it is willing to pursue aggressive strategies that would put the PA government on the defensive, losses like this one are inevitable.”

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