Release of UN report on 'Mavi Marmara' deferred

Officials say Palmer report delayed to give Jerusalem, Ankara time to formulate agreement in order to renew diplomatic ties.

mavi marmara passengers 311 (photo credit: IDF Spokesperson)
mavi marmara passengers 311
(photo credit: IDF Spokesperson)
The planned release Wednesday of the UN’s Palmer Commission report on the Mavi Marmara has been postponed for about a month to allow Israel and Turkey to find a formula to renew full diplomatic ties and obviate the need to release the report, diplomatic sources in Jerusalem said Sunday night.
According to the officials, the report – which was to be submitted to UN Secretary- General Ban Ki-moon on Wednesday – will now not be submitted until the end of August. The report was originally to be released on May 15, but was postponed at Turkey’s request. And then again on July 7, another day that came and went without its release.
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The report – whose details have been widely reported – upholds the legality of Israel’s naval blockade of the Gaza Strip, but takes the IDF to task for using disproportionate force in enforcing the blockade.
Turkey is keen to bury the report, because while far from being a pro-Israel document, by upholding the legality of the blockade it places some of the responsibility for the flotilla fiasco on Turkey’s shoulders.
Turkey is demanding Israel apologize for the incident, pay compensation to the families of the victims, and lift the blockade of Gaza.
Israel has so far refused to apologize, although there is discussion about Israel apologizing for “operational mishaps” that led to the loss of lives. Nine Turkish citizens were killed on the Mavi Marmara when some of the passengers on the ship attacked IDF commandos who landed on it to enforce the blockade.
An Israeli refusal to apologize to the Turks will not only result in Turkish wrath, but also US anger, diplomatic officials said Sunday, explaining that the US is pressuring Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu to accept a formula that would allow Israeli-Turkish relations to return to semi-normalcy.
The US, these officials said, see Israeli-Turkish cooperation as an important element in the Middle East, and one they are very keen to renew.
According to the officials, the US wants Netanyahu to back a formula that would include the following elements: an apology for “operational mishaps” in the Mavi Marmara incident that resulted in the loss of Turkish lives, a willingness to pay compensation through a fund to be set up by the Turkish government, a Turkish commitment that this ends the story and there will be no legal claims against Israel, the soldiers or officers involved and an agreement to bury the Palmer Commission report.
Delaying the release of the report will give the sides more time to come to an agreement on an acceptable formula. The postponement will also make unnecessary, for the time being, a meeting of Netanyahu’s inner forum of eight senior ministers to discuss the formula.
Among those ministers, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, Strategic Affairs Minister Moshe Ya’alon, Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz, Bennie Begin and Interior Minister Eli Yishai are all believed to be opposed to an apology. Defense Minister Ehud Barak and Intelligence Agencies Minister Dan Meridor in favor, and Netanyahu’s position is not known.
Lieberman said before Sunday’s cabinet meeting that an improvement in ties with Turkey was in the interest of both sides. He said Israel did not need to apologize, but also added that if the cabinet decided against his point of view this would not lead Israel Beiteinu to bolt the coalition.
Barak said Sunday, before the postponement of the Palmer Commission report was made known, that he hoped Israel would not have to respond this week, and that there would be more time to work out a formula.
Barak said Israel’s decision needed to be weighed while considering the obligation to defend the “dignity of the state” and justness of the blockade, together with an interest in protecting the officers and soldiers involved in the operation from the possibility of legal action abroad.
One of the reasons that has been broached for issuing some kind of apology was that it would be within the framework of a Turkish agreement, which means as a result, there would be no future legal claims against the state or the soldiers.
In a related development, the economic cabinet is scheduled to meet Monday to discuss granting visas to 860 Turkish construction workers in the country. These visas were granted in 2003 as part of a package that included the upgrading of Turkish tanks by Israel.
Both Netanyahu and Barak are reportedly involved in the discussions, and it is expected that the visas will be extended.