Should the Palestinian Authority (PA) be able to use an international organization like Interpol as a weapon in its internal fights between factions?
The question seems absurd. Yet it is exactly what the PA and its bombastic president, Mahmoud Abbas, are now trying to do.
Abbas’ intentions underline the kind of craziness that can happen when a non-nation like the Palestinian territories gains entrée to an international organization and gets treated as if it were a nation. And the craziness could soon become worse.
The Trump administration fought hard to stop the PA from winning admission to Interpol. It failed. Now the U.S. needs to take steps to prevent the PA from abusing its victory.
Thanks to Hollywood, most people believe that Interpol is an international police force, with armed agents chasing criminals around the world. None of that is true. Interpol is actually more like a bulletin board on which the police agencies of the world can post their wanted notices.
Interpol doesn’t catch criminals and it supposedly can’t get involved in politics. At its best, Interpol is about preventing criminal fugitives from escaping justice.
But Interpol’s not at its best. Its membership rolls include every country except North Korea. Last year the majority of those nations made the foolish decision to admit the Palestinian Authority as a peer.
How could this happen? Unfortunately, like the United Nations, Interpol is numerically dominated by autocracies, dictatorships, the corrupt and the incompetent. They recognized the PA is one of their own.
Interpol already has a terrible problem with political abuse. The Russians, the Chinese, the Iranians, the Turks, the Venezuelans and others love taking advantage of the organization to harass exiles, dissidents and inconvenient business executives. The Palestinians promise more of the same, with a special focus on abusing Interpol to eliminate Abbas’s Palestinian enemies.
And Abbas has a lot of enemies. You might think that the Israelis would head the list, but even Israel takes second place to anyone who might be a threat to Abbas and his rule.
At the top of that roster is Mohammad Dahlan, a former Abbas co-conspirator and onetime head of the terrorist organization Fatah, now reposing comfortably in Abu Dhabi. He is only one of many Abbas rivals and opponents within his organization who have fled the thuggish reprisals the Palestinian leadership imposes on its own, usually equally unsavory, rivals.
In a recent paper for The Heritage Foundation, I itemized all the abusive things the PA has promised to do with Interpol, including waging a pseudo-legal war on Israel. But in late April, Abbas publicly promised he’d use Interpol to bring at least 60 of his opponents back to the West Bank.
Most nations – especially the U.S. – wouldn’t want their courts to be used as a venue for Palestinian knife fights, so they’re likely to tell Abbas to kiss off. But Interpol can be used very effectively to harass the innocent, because its apprehension notices – called red notices – make it impossible to travel by air, and hard even to keep your bank account open.
On May 30, for example, British businessman Bill Browder, a critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin, was briefly arrested in Spain as a result of Russian abuse of Interpol.
And the PA isn’t likely to stop with its own enemies. Soon enough, it will be time for Israel to get the Interpol treatment too.
Indeed, Abbas has said that the broader reason he wanted to join Interpol was to “pave the way for us to pursue claims against Israel at the United Nations, human rights treaty bodies and the International Court of Justice.”
That’s bad enough. But worse is that Interpol’s own guidelines encourage the criminalization of speech. The ultimate target of PA abuse could well be anyone who voices public support for Israel.
What can be done? The U.S. can block access to the data we provide to Interpol, and announce that we won’t act on anything Interpol does on the PA’s behalf. We can change Interpol’s legal immunities in the U.S. to make it vulnerable if it accuses Americans of the “crime” of speaking up for Israel.
But because Interpol’s problems don’t stop with the PA, we need to do more. We shouldn’t leave Americans and refugees from Putin’s tyranny or Beijing’s malice to face Interpol alone. We need to work with a few trustworthy allies – starting with the British – to create a list of American and other friendly victims of Interpol abuse, and use that list to protect them the consequences of that abuse.