Gov't to cooperate with UN probe

Kadima criticizes decision to allow flotilla investigation.

mavi marmara passengers 311 (photo credit: IDF Spokesperson)
mavi marmara passengers 311
(photo credit: IDF Spokesperson)
Israel agreed Monday to take part in a flotilla investigative panel set up by the UN in the hope that this would significantly reduce tensions with Turkey, The Jerusalem Post has learned.
Over the past few weeks, as Turkey has come under increasing criticism in Washington and Europe over its handling of the flotilla episode, there has been a marked moderation of its demands for resuming normal diplomatic ties with Israel.
RELATED:UN remains lukewarm toward Terkel Committee
UN may put forward int'l flotilla probe
UNHRC names flotilla probe c'tee
In the immediate aftermath of the May 31 incident, in which nine Turks were killed after IDF commandos were beaten upon landing on a Turkish-flagged ship to keep it from breaking the Gaza sea blockade, the Turks demanded an Israeli apology, an international investigative committee, Israeli compensation payments to the families of those killed or wounded, and a lifting of the Gaza blockade.
Over the past couple of weeks, however, there has been a devaluation of these demands, with the Turks asking for one of the following: an Israeli apology, compensation or an international investigative committee.
The decision on Monday by Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s inner cabinet, a forum known as the septet, to agree to participate in a panel established by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, was largely viewed as an attempt to meet one of these demands and thereby significantly reduce the tension.
“Part of our agreeing to this process is that Israel, as the prime minister has said, is interested in reducing tensions with Turkey and bringing the ties with Turkey back to normal,” a senior government official said.
Ban called the establishment of the panel an “unprecedented development.”
“I thank the leaders of the two countries, with whom I have engaged in last-minute consultations over the weekend, for their spirit of compromise and forward-looking cooperation,” Ban said in a statement on Monday.
He had met with Defense Minister Ehud Barak on Friday and spoke with him at least once over the weekend.
Netanyahu’s office issued a statement saying that the decision to participate in the panel had been made “in the wake of diplomatic contacts that have been held in recent weeks in order to ensure that this was indeed a panel with a balanced and fair written mandate.”
Ban first proposed the establishment of this committee on June 1. After speaking with the UN secretary-general, Netanyahu declared that “Israel has nothing to hide. The opposite is true. It is in the national interest of the State of Israel to ensure that the factual truth of the overall flotilla events comes to light throughout the world, and this is exactly the principle that we are advancing.”
The US, which has been uncomfortable with the tension between its two closest Middle East allies, has been asking both sides to find a formula that would help ease the tension and allow them to get beyond the issue.
Soon after Ban issued his announcement establishing the panel, US Ambassador to the UN Susan Rice issued a statement welcoming the announcement and thanking Israel and Turkey “for the constructive and cooperative spirit they have shown.”
According to the US statement, “the panel, which has the support of both Israel and Turkey, will receive and review the reports of each government’s national investigation into the incident and make recommendations as to how to avoid such incidents in the future. This panel is not a substitute for those national investigations. It complements them, affording Israel and Turkey the opportunity to present the conclusions of their investigations to the international community.”
According to Rice, the focus of the panel “is appropriately on the future and on preventing such incidents from recurring. The United States also hopes that the panel can serve as a vehicle to enable Israel and Turkey to move beyond the recent strains in their relationship and repair their strong historic ties.”
The panel will be led by former New Zealand prime minister Geoffrey Palmer, an expert on maritime law, and will also include the outgoing president of Colombia, Alvaro Uribe. In 2007, the American Jewish Committee gave Uribe its Light Unto The Nations Award, with AJC President E. Robert Goodkind describing Uribe as a “staunch ally of the United States, a good friend of Israel and the Jewish people, and... a firm believer in human dignity and human development in Colombia and the Americas.”
Of the two remaining panel members, one will be from Israel and the other from Turkey, a spokesperson from the secretary-general’s office said.
Neither the Israeli nor the Turkish representative has yet been named.
The panel will have its first meeting August 10 in New York. It is expected to deliver a progress report by mid-September and its final report in February 2011.
“I hope the panel will fulfill its mandate based on the Presidential Statement of the Security Council and with the fullest cooperation of the relevant national authorities of the two countries,” Ban said in a statement. “It will also give me recommendations for the prevention of similar incidents in the future.
“I also hope that today’s agreement will impact positively on the relationship between Turkey and Israel as well as the overall situation in the Middle East,” Ban said.
The establishment of the UN panel marks the creation of the sixth investigative body to probe the Gaza flotilla raid. In Israel, an IDF commission headed by Maj.-Gen (res.) Giora Eiland has already issued its findings, the Turkel committee is carrying out its investigation and State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss has said he will also investigate the matter. In addition, the UN Human Rights Council established a committee of its own – one with which Israel has said it will not cooperate – and Turkey has set up a commission of its own as well.
At a press conference, the secretary-general’s spokesman Martin Nesirky said that the latest panel would examine the work of both Israeli and Turkish committees of inquiry into the flotilla incident. The panel, Nesirky said, would be able to receive and review reports of domestic committees, request clarifications and additional information and examine the circumstances and context of the incident. The panel is also charged with considering and recommending ways to avoid such incidents in the future.
The government’s decision to take part in the panel set off dueling statements between Netanyahu’s office and Kadima, which roundly criticized the decision.
According to a Kadima statement, the government has brought Israel to one of the worst diplomatic ebbs of its history and “continues to lead Israel into a corner.”
The statement said that the same government that got Israel entangled in the flotilla episode and lifted the blockade on Gaza was now being forced to give in to international dictates.
“Had the Netanyahu government listened to our call to establish a true committee of inquiry, it would not need to deal with foreign committees,” the statement said. “And had Barak and Netanyahu worried less about themselves and more about the soldiers, the IDF would not now be investigated by the UN.”
In response, the Prime Minister’s Office issued a statement saying it was unfortunate that the opposition was issuing irresponsible statements
to the media instead of checking simple facts.
“If they had bothered to check,” the statement read, “they would have found that IDF soldiers and officers will not be investigated by the UN or any other body.”
That response, in turn, elicited a response from Kadima, which said it was clear the UN body would not be investigating the decision-making of the septet, but rather the actions of the IDF.