China’s detention of Interpol’s chief Hongwei Meng last week has raised a number of controversial questions, but one angle that has not been explored is what it may say about the future of the Palestinians within Interpol.
If China can just arrest the chief, a Chinese citizen, without revealing the evidence and with no real consequences other than muted generic criticism from the international community, what does that say about how the Palestinians might be able to politicize it against Israelis?
In September 2017, after years of battling and failing to get into the organization as a full-fledged member, the Palestinian Authority finally succeeded.
Since then there have been dire predictions about how the PA would use and abuse its Interpol membership to obligate countries worldwide to arrest Israeli officials over trumped up or political charges.
Already, Israelis are routinely accused of war crimes for the IDF’s conduct and for the settlement enterprise by the UN Human Rights Council.
Further, the International Criminal Court is considering whether to criminally investigate Israelis for those issues as well.
But the PA getting into Interpol opened a new front because the organization does not just accuse people of war crimes, it arrests them.
Also, Interpol sends out “red notices” to all of its members worldwide which are supposed to obligate them to arrest the designated persons, essentially trusting that when members issue the notices they have proper evidence.The Jerusalem Post
did report at the time that the PA gained full membership that, because Interpol’s mandate prevents it from making political arrests, that top Israeli officials believed there still might not be an issue.The Times of Israel
more recently reported that top PA law enforcement officials, as opposed to its political class, have gone on record that they will not seek to use Interpol to arrest Israelis.
And yet that may not be the end of the story.
As a Heritage Foundation report noted in May, the Palestinians could potentially use the ICC to get Interpol to issue red notices against Israelis. Or the PA could wait to see if the ICC goes after Israelis, and only try to use Interpol themselves if that does not transpire.
The report also discussed the PA’s use of Interpol to hunt down Palestinian political opponents of PA President Mahmoud Abbas.
Ironically, the report said that Hongwei having been in president in 2017 may have helped the PA become a full member.
Essentially, the argument goes that Hongwei, and China who he was representing, were more likely to help build support for the PA to gain full membership to Interpol than its prior leaders, who were mostly from the West.
Since the key point there was really that China was likely to be more supportive of PA campaigns than the West, the removal of Hongwei does not necessarily change that broader trend in which non-Western countries may be more ascendant in Interpol and other global organizations.
His arrest may signal that China is so powerful now that it is ready to openly flout and undermine international organizations where Chinese officials and maybe others offend its leadership. But it also may signal a downward spiral in Interpol’s ability to fend off politicization.
An institution with strong international support for the rule of law and fairness is less likely to be hijacked by a biased PA campaign against Israelis. An organization in which top officials must worry about being abducted by non-democratic countries, however, may be less likely to resist politicization.
More than a year after the PA joined Interpol, Israel has not yet felt the arrest threat come into play. Yet, the arrest of Hongwei may mean that if and when the issue does come up, there may be fewer Interpol officials at the top ready to risk their own necks to give Israel a fair shake.
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