Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu.
(photo credit: Raheb Homavandi / Reuters)
The Palmer Report, a UN review of the Mavi Marmara fiasco, has been ready for a few months now.
But until last week, its publication had been repeatedly postponed by Washington.
Though the report is critical of Israel, it contains a number of conclusions particularly damaging to the Turks that Ankara had a clear interest in preventing from being made public. A behind-the-scenes rapprochement deal would have included the quiet scrapping of the Palmer Report. But Ankara’s opportunity for reconciliation without fanfare passed after The New York Times
obtained and released details of the report on Thursday, a day ahead of its official publication.
Admittedly, the report censured the navy’s Flotilla 13 commandos for using excessive force – which could now expose them to criminal prosecution in international courts – and criticized Israel for failing to provide “satisfactory explanation” for the nine “unacceptable” deaths of passengers on board the Mavi Marmara
But the Palmer panel members also recognized that the commandos “faced
significant, organized and violent resistance from a group of
passengers... requiring them to use force for their own protection.”
The report also provided an unprecedented UN-backed justification for
Israel’s naval blockade – first put in place in the wake of Hamas’s
violent takeover of the Gaza Strip in June 2007.
The panel, set up by UN Secretary-General Ban Kimoon and headed by
former New Zealand premier Geoffrey Palmer, found that Israel’s naval
blockade is “a legitimate security measure in order to prevent weapons
entering Gaza by sea, and its implementation complied with the
requirements of international law.”
Its enforcement “may take place on the high seas and may be conducted by force if a vessel resists.”
These findings clash with Turkey’s claim that the blockade should be considered illegal collective punishment.
They also undermine Ankara’s justification for demanding that Israel
lift the blockade as a condition for re-normalizing relations.
The report seemed to rebuke Turkey for failing to stop the IHH, an
Islamist charity supportive of Hamas, from organizing the flotilla.
“More could have been done to warn the flotilla participants of the
potential risks involved and to dissuade them from their actions,” the
report said. “There exist serious questions about the conduct, true
nature and objectives of the flotilla organizers, particularly the IHH.”
The Palmer Report’s findings clearly find fault with Turkey for
implicitly supporting the flotilla, and reject outright Ankara’s claim
that the naval blockade on Gaza – designed to prevent the smuggling of
arms and ammunition by Hamas, a terrorist organization that maintains
ties with Turkey – is in any way illegal.
Yet, in a supreme act of chutzpah, it is Turkey – not Israel – that is
now using the Palmer Report to justify a series of actions meant to hurt
relations between the two countries. At a rushed press conference on
Friday, even before the report was officially released, Turkish Foreign
Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, basing himself on The New York Times
leak, threatened to take Israel to the International Court of Justice
in The Hague for “an investigation into what the Gaza blockade really
Davutoglu also announced that Ankara was expelling Israel’s ambassador and was freezing all military agreements.
He also said Turkey would take measures for freedom of maritime movement
in the eastern Mediterranean Sea, would no longer recognize the Gaza
blockade and would support flotilla victims who take the matter to
Israel has already voiced “regret” for the Mavi Marmara
incident, as recommended in the Palmer Report, but was snubbed by Turkey, which insists on a formal apology.
The government has also adopted the report’s recommendation to provide
for the deceased and injured victims and their families by sponsoring a
fund, but rightly balked at Turkey’s demand for compensation, saying
that damages payments would amount to an admission of wrongdoing.
As long as Ankara adopts a bellicose approach apparently aimed at riding
the wave of anti-Israel sentiment so prevalent in the region, there is
not much Jerusalem can do to facilitate rapprochement – except to stick
to its position and wait for a change in Turkish diplomacy.