A top US lawmaker said that Washington won’t honor Palestinian warrants issued through Interpol, though a Palestinian official claimed Ramallah had no plans to use the international policing body to seek the arrest of Israelis, but rather would pursue Palestinian criminals, including a top rival of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.
Interpol voted Wednesday to include Palestine as a member state, in a new boost to Palestinian efforts for international recognition and influence amid long-stalled negotiations with Israel for full statehood.
The decision drew an angry Israeli reaction and threat of retaliation. It also raised concerns that the Palestinians might use their elevated status to seek the arrests of Israelis.
US Sen. Ben Cardin of Maryland, the top ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said he was concerned that the Palestinians would now issue Interpol “red notices,” which the US Justice Department describes as the closest instrument to an international arrest warrant in use today.
Cardin said any “red notices” issued by the Palestinians “will not be recognized in many countries, including the United States.”
Cardin also told reporters that the Palestinian membership could harm peace efforts.
“The international community has a great deal at stake in pursuing the peace process between the Palestinians and the Israelis,” Cardin said. “There’s only one way forward: two states living side by side in peace; a Palestinian state and a Jewish state. To try to use international organizations to advance the cause only sets back that opportunity.”
In a statement, Interpol said red notices are not international arrest warrants, but rather act as an alert to member countries, and are issued based on a valid national arrest warrant. Each member country decides how to respond to such a notice and Interpol can’t compel its members to arrest a wanted person who is the subject of a red notice.
Omar Awadallah, the head of the UN organizations department in the Palestinian Foreign Ministry, said the Palestinians “now have the right to sue anyone” and could theoretically use their Interpol status to pursue legal steps against Israelis suspected of crimes in Palestinian territory.
“But this is a political issue and needs a political decision,” he said.
The Palestinians already have been providing evidence in a preliminary war crimes investigation against Israel at the International Criminal Court, another international body they have joined.
A senior Palestinian official said there were no plans to sue any Israelis through Interpol. He said the purpose is “to pursue criminals who commit crimes here and escape.”
He said one target would be Mohammed Dahlan, a rival of Abbas.
Dahlan, convicted in absentia on corruption charges, now lives in exile after a falling out with the Palestinian leader. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was discussing internal Palestinian deliberations.
The rivalry between Dahlan and Abbas surfaced in late 2010, when reports of dubious accuracy spread that Dahlan was preparing a putsch against the PA president. The reports, together with critical statements made by Dahlan against Abbas’s sons, led the PA president to make a rapid move that ended with Dahlan’s expulsion from the Palestinian territories in January 2011.
Dahlan has been living in the United Arab Emirates since then and trying to set up bastions of support in the Palestinian territories, particularly among the inhabitants of the refugee camps in the West Bank and Gaza.
He recently played a key role in brokering an agreement between Gaza-ruling terror group Hamas and Egypt to provide electricity to the impoverished Strip.
Palestinian Authority Foreign Minister Riad Malki hailed Wednesday’s vote as a “victory for law enforcement” and a “voice of confidence in the capacity of law enforcement in Palestine.” He promised to uphold Palestinian commitments to combating crime and strengthening the rule of law.
Interpol announced the inclusion of the “State of Palestine” as well as the Solomon Islands on Twitter and its website Wednesday after a vote by its general assembly in Beijing.
With the new votes, Interpol will have 192 member countries. Interpol didn’t immediately announce how many members supported Palestinian membership.
The Palestine Liberation Organization’s negotiations affairs department said on Twitter that it had received more than 75 percent of the vote.
The move was roundly criticized by Israeli leaders and US Jewish organizations.
Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah applied for Interpol membership in 2015, and submitted a formal letter this July promising not to use the organization “for any political, military, racial or religious interventions or activities,” and to cooperate with Interpol, according to minutes of the Interpol meeting.
The approval vote requires the Palestinians to pay membership dues worth 0.03 percent of the Interpol budget.
Interpol, based in Lyon, France, is an international clearing house for arrest warrants and police cooperation against cross-border terrorism, trafficking and other crime.