Palestine Just Joined Interpol. Is That Bad for Israel?
It’s easy to abuse Interpol’s red notice system. That doesn’t mean Palestine will.
Interpol, the international police organization, has voted to accept Palestine as a member country -- which will heighten fears in Israel that Palestine could use Interpol to target Israeli officials.
Interpol, the international police organization, has voted to accept Palestine as a member country — which will heighten fears in Israel that Palestine could use Interpol to target Israeli officials.
Interpol membership will bring several benefits to Palestinian police. They’ll get access to information that other police agencies around the world have shared about criminal activity and will be able to issue red notices, which function as international nonbinding warrants requesting the extradition of criminal fugitives.
And that’s what makes Israel nervous. Israel is strongly opposed to Palestine’s membership in Interpol (Israel opposes Palestine’s entry into any international organization, insisting that it is not an independent state) and blocked its attempt last year to achieve Interpol membership, warning that Palestine might issue red notices against Israeli government officials. In the end, 75 countries supported Palestine’s bid for membership, 34 abstained, and 24 opposed it.
Interpol’s constitution forbids the use of red notices for political purposes. But some countries have been known to abuse Interpol, particularly its red notice system, for political purposes. Russia, China, Venezuela, and Turkey have issued red notices for dissidents and activists, in addition to the actual criminals for which the system is intended. (Interpol functions primarily as a liaison between police agencies around the world and does not itself have agents with policing powers.)
Interpol carefully vets red notice requests, which must be based on documented evidence of wrongdoing, such as a domestic arrest warrant. But it is notoriously difficult to remove a red notice once it has been issued, despite recent reforms attempting to streamline the appeals process.
Bruno Min, a legal and policy officer at Fair Trials, a Europe-based human rights organization with a special focus on Interpol, said that Israel may also be concerned about the sharing of sensitive data.
“A lot of Interpol’s work is about being able to share data,” Min told Foreign Policy. “Perhaps they might have concerns that any information that they try to disseminate through Interpol’s channels, Palestine would now have access to.”
But Palestine’s membership in Interpol shouldn’t actually pose a new concern for Israel, he said: Pretty much the whole world is already in the police organization.
“Almost every country in the world is a member of Interpol, with the notable exception of North Korea,” Min said, including the Arab League, whose members view Israel with hostility. “Saudi Arabia, Eritrea, Syria, Yemen, Iran — these are all member countries I’m assuming for Israel would be not particularly friendly countries.”
That means that Iran, for example, already has access to the same kinds of data that Palestine will now have. That didn’t keep Iran from joining Interpol, nor has it prevented virtually any other country.
“Interpol has a very, very broad membership,” said Min, noting that some members have good human rights records, while others abuse the justice system.
A Chinese national, Meng Hongwei, currently serves as Interpol’s president, fueling accusations that China is using Interpol as a political tool. Interpol does not recognize Taiwan, whose statehood China vehemently rejects, as a member, and rejected the self-governing island’s request to join the general assembly as an observer last year.
Palestine is having more luck getting international recognition. More than 130 countries recognize Palestine as a state. Since 2012, when its status in the United Nations was upgraded to “non-member state,” Palestine has joined dozens of international organizations. It submitted its application to join Interpol in August 2015.
Photo credit: Lintao Zhang – Pool/Getty Images
Bethany Allen-Ebrahimian is a journalist covering China from Washington. She was previously an assistant editor and contributing reporter at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @BethanyAllenEbr
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