Waiting for Ankara

The Palmer Report finds fault with Turkey for implicitly supporting the flotilla, upholds legality of naval blockade on Gaza.

Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu (photo credit: Raheb Homavandi / Reuters)
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 is.”
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 court.
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.