Fatah and Hamas are undergoing a reconciliation process; Hamas has rewritten its charter, and in a fairly recent step towards global cooperation, Palestine has joined Interpol as a member country. Unsurprisingly, many in Israel is are not pleased.
Israel’s displeasure has many facets, of which the issue of security is an important one. Israel’s Deputy Minister for Diplomacy, Michael Oren, it is that “Palestine, which praises terrorists of the past and refuses to condemn those of today, INTERPOL makes the world less safe.” According to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, this decision “seriously harms the chances to achieve peace.”
Israel’s fear of a threat to security is not entirely unfounded. The sharing of data and intelligence is at the heart of INTERPOL operations. INTERPOL’s I-24/7 network links intelligence databases of member countries together and through the Command and Coordination Centre, the police forces of member-countries share data. INTERPOL’s Notice system allows nations to track, arrest and seek the extradition of criminals who have fled the country. As highlighted by Turkey’s Red Notice against author Dogan Akhanli, a political dissident who writes on topic such as the Armenian Genocide (which Turkey denies ever happened, this is a system that can be abused.
Yet in practice, this is not much of an issue at all. 192 countries are members of INTERPOL, including the Democratic Republic of Congo, Somalia, and Iran. INTERPOL is not unmitigated access to state secrets of sovereign nations. INTERPOL has no sovereignty. Any databases it operates on are those given by member-countries. With the use of Notices, the lack of an INTERPOL police force means the carrying out of any extraditions or acting on Notices in anyway is entirely up to member-countries. With the case of Chinese dissident Wang Zaigang, the Red Notice against him issued by China did not lead to his extradition by the United States, where he is based. The idea there is any greater imminent threat to international security with the addition of Palestine is false.
However, for many in Israel, it is the issue of Palestine not officially being a state that is the more pressing matter. Even though 136 countries recognise Palestine as a state and in 2012 Palestine became a Non-Member Observer State in the UN, recognising Palestine any time soon is a no-go for Israel. Israel believes the recognition of Palestine must be done through an Israel-Palestinian agreement, and in order for such a discussion to be successful there must be peace. As Benjamin Netanyahu believes Palestine is “a state that calls for the destruction of Israel” and one that would be immediately used for “radical Islam”, this is peace that may not be achieved for a while.
Joining INTERPOL however does not require being a universally approved sovereign nation. Aruba, the constituent country of the Netherlands is a member as well as the Netherlands. The United Kingdom is a member, but so are overseas territories Turks and Caicos, Anguilla and Monserrat. INTERPOL does not aim to legitimise certain countries. The aim of INTERPOL is worldwide security coverage, and that extends to Palestine. For INTERPOL, the addition of Palestine is the addition of another network of police organisations that may make the world a slightly safer place.
Israel’s approach to the joining of Palestine is indicative of a greater problem. It is an obvious issue that the concessions Israel and Palestine want from each other are unlikely to ever be met. The Palestinian Authority (PA) will not concede on Israeli settlements for example, but Netanyahu has vowed to keep settlements as they are. Israel vows no change, where Hamas’ new charter accepts 1967 borders. However, the side effect of not being content with nothing but a complete settlement is the lack of resolution of resolvable issues such as access to water in Palestine. Yet from a complete end to the conflict to saving a few lives at a time, no issue can be solved without dialogue between these two countries. Israel’s rhetoric does make this more difficult.
For Israel, the radical position of those in Palestine, the militancy and terrorist activity, and the refusal to cooperate have been many of the reasons Israel refuses to recognise Palestine. Yet, when Hamas, the governing authority in the Gaza strip, rewrites it charter to be more moderate, it is slammed as an attempt to “fool the world” by a spokesman for Benjamin Netanyahu. When Palestine in joining INTERPOL commits itself to a degree of international cooperation, it is heavily challenged on the basis of security and Palestine’s right to exist. According to Benjamin Netanyahu, the reconciliation of Hamas and Fatah makes a peace deal “harder”.
If any Palestinian action but a complete acceptance of Israeli terms is an affront, then not only is peace unlikely but it is this rhetoric than decreases the likelihood of further Palestinian concessions. Palestine joining INTERPOL may very well be a ploy, yet if it was anything more it is the condemnation of these measures that prevents further advances.
Of course, it does not help if senior leaders in Hamas continue to declare their intention to wipe out Israel. Yet Mahmoud Abbas, President of the State of Palestine, met with Donald Trump. Khaled Meshaal also said in an interview with Al-Jazeera that Hamas’ struggle was against Israeli policy, and not Jews. An organisation committed to the destruction of Israel since birth cannot eradicate anti-Semitism by rewriting a charter. But to rewrite the charter in the first place is a step forward. Where complete agreement seems unlikely, radical incrementalism also becomes difficult if any measure whatsoever is immediately demonised.
If there is any hope of stable negotiations, it lies with Palestinian willingness to do so, and Israeli acceptance of Palestinian willingness. Palestinian willingness is clearly an issue, yet if the default position of Israel is to reject anything but the unlikely event that Palestine accepts Israel’s terms, then not only is long-term stability unlikely, but any opportunity to make gains in the short-term diminishes. The response to Palestine simply joining INTERPOL, unfortunately is a bad omen for peace between Israel-Palestine.