AnalysisThose 75 yes votes were for Abbas's state, not his police

Interpol handcuffs PM’s hope of ending automatic anti-Israel majority

More than anything else, global police organization’s vote to accept Palestine as a member state signals to Israel that the two-state solution is still on the table

Raphael Ahren

Raphael Ahren is the diplomatic correspondent at The Times of Israel.

A Palestinian delegate receives the Interpol flag from the president of the International Criminal Police Organization Meng Hongwei, second right, during the Interpol General Assembly, in Beijing, China, September 27, 2017.  (Interpol via AP)
A Palestinian delegate receives the Interpol flag from the president of the International Criminal Police Organization Meng Hongwei, second right, during the Interpol General Assembly, in Beijing, China, September 27, 2017. (Interpol via AP)

Last November, Israel thwarted a Palestinian attempt to become full members of Interpol, the world’s largest international police organization.

“It was a difficult effort, but it produced results,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared happily at the time. “It reflects what I have been telling you is happening, which is a change in Israel’s international standing and an expansion of our ties with different countries.”

The Palestinians will continue trying to attain statehood through international institutions, he warned, but added that he had “no doubt about the general, long-term trend — Israel is bursting onto the global scene, and this will ultimately be reflected in all UN and international bodies.”

Netanyahu has since repeated this message countless times.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addresses the 72nd session of the General Assembly at the United Nations in New York, September 19, 2017. (AFP/Jewel SAMAD)

“We’re in the midst of a great revolution, a revolution in Israel’s standing among the nations,” he announced at the UN General Assembly earlier this month.

“We have many friends,” he said Monday at a Jewish New Year’s toast for employees in his Jerusalem office.

And yet just three days later, Interpol overwhelmingly supported a resolution immediately making the “State of Palestine” a full member of the organization. (75 countries voted “yes” and 24 countries voted “no,” with 34 abstentions.)

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas addresses the United Nations General Assembly at UN headquarters, September 20, 2017 in New York City. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images/AFP)

To join the world’s second-largest organization after the UN, the Palestinians needed two-thirds of all votes cast; they received three-quarters.

Jerusalem had vehemently lobbied against admitting Palestine to the organization, arguing that this could result in sensitive information being leaked to Palestinian terror groups. Israel also fears Palestinian efforts via Interpol to mount legal challenges, including travel bans and extradition requests, against Israeli army officers and others for alleged war crimes.

And yet, ignoring Israel’s widely recognized expertise in combatting terrorism, 75.7% of voting countries supported the resolution, which grants the Palestinians access to Interpol’s secure global police communications network, and all the other perks of full-fledged members.

For Israel, this was another bitter diplomatic defeat, reminiscent of 2011, when UNESCO admitted the State of Palestine; or 2012, when Palestine became a non-member state at the UN General Assembly; or 2015, when the Palestinians joined the International Criminal Court.

Palestinians wave their national flag during a rally in the West Bank city of Ramallah on November 29, 2012 to support Palestinian leader Mahmud Abbas who is heading to the United Nations General Assembly today with huge backing for his bid for UN recognition of statehood despite strong US and Israeli opposition. Abbas will make the case for Palestine to become a UN "non-member observer state" and indicate his conditions for talks with Israel in a key speech to the 193-member assembly. (photo credit: Issam Rimawi/Flash90)
Palestinians wave their national flag during a rally in Ramallah on November 29, 2012 to support Palestinian leader Mahmud Abbas’s bid for UN recognition of statehood. (photo credit: Issam Rimawi/Flash90)

These are not isolated incidents: each step toward statehood sets another precedent and prepares the ground for the next one.

In order to join Interpol, for instance, a country requesting membership is asked to declare “if it is a member of other intergovernmental organizations and, in particular, if the country is a Member of the United Nations or an Observer State recognized by the United Nations.”

Palestine’s election to Interpol is a particularly painful setback for Netanyahu’s vision of Israel’s ever-improving standing in the world, since it was determined through a secret ballot. Israel is thus unable to claim in this case, as it has after previously lost diplomatic battles, that many countries secretly support Israel but are still unwilling to do so openly.

While nothing will change on the ground as a result of Wednesday’s vote, it provides the Palestinian national aspiration with further international legitimacy. In the eyes of many governments across the globe, Palestinian statehood is inevitable, and they feel they need to vote accordingly in international forums.

The fact that a large majority of Interpol member states ignored Jerusalem’s requests does not contradict Netanyahu’s assertion that Israel is a “rising global power” that has much to offer the world. Indeed, the prime minister knows how to translate Israel’s security and hi-tech prowess into diplomatic capital — relations with Africa, Asia, Latin America and even some European countries have dramatically improved in recent years.

The nations of the world want to do business with Israel, now more than ever. This has the potential to sway countries’ voting patterns in international bodies, and here and there one can see harbingers of change.

But so far, Netanyahu’s strategy of “economic diplomacy” has failed to make a significant dent on the Palestinians’ automatic majority in international bodies. Whether it’s UNESCO, the UN Security Council, the UN Human Rights Council or, now, Interpol, when it comes to the Palestinians’ aspiration for statehood, Israel stands no chance.

China’s President Xi Jinping speaks during the 86th Interpol General Assembly at the Beijing National Convention Center in Beijing on September 26, 2017 (AFP/Pool/Lintao Zhang)

The 75 delegates at Interpol’s annual General Assembly in Beijing who voted in favor of Palestine’s membership were probably motivated less by a deep appreciation of Mahmoud Abbas’s Palestinian police, and rather more by their desire to make a statement: the Palestinians deserve a state of their own, they likely reasoned, and therefore we cannot in good conscience vote against them.

More than anything else, Palestine’s admission to Interpol can be understood as the international community telling Netanyahu that the two-state solution remains the only viable blueprint for the future of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

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