PM to testify before Turkel panel

Netanyahu expected to defend flotilla raid; UN panel begins in 3 days.

Netanyahu looking over shoulder 311 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Netanyahu looking over shoulder 311
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
The various committees probing the deadly May 31 Gaza flotilla incident will move into high gear in the coming days, with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu set to be the first person to testify before the Turkel Commission on Monday, while the UN panel will start its work on Tuesday.
Netanyahu will begin his testimony before the Turkel Commission, headed by retired Supreme Court justice Jacob Turkel, at 9 a.m. He is expected to testify for around five hours, with part of his remarks to be closed to the press and the public.
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In addition to Turkel, the committee is made up of Prof. Shabtai Rosenne, Maj.- Gen. (res.) Amos Horev, former Foreign Ministry director- general Reuven Merchav and Prof. Miguel Deutch. They have been joined by two foreign observers: David Trimble from Northern Ireland, and retired Canadian Brig.-Gen. Ken Watkin.
Netanyahu has reportedly been preparing with his staff for a couple of days, partly by taking questions that are expected to come up. Sources in his office said he was taking the testimony “very seriously.” Netanyahu is expected to give an opening statement, followed by questions from the panel.
Defense Minister Ehud Barak will appear before the panel on Tuesday, and Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi on Wednesday.
Officials in the Prime Minister’s Office said that in his opening statement, Netanyahu would argue that the operation to block the flotilla had been justified and legal under all international norms.
Netanyahu’s original hopes that the establishment of the Turkel Commission, with its international component, would be sufficient for the international community did not pan out, and at Sunday’s cabinet meeting he formally announced that businessman Joseph Ciechanover would represent Israel before a UN panel that Netanyahu had reluctantly agreed to commit to. That panel will begin its work on Tuesday in New York.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon announced on Saturday evening that the Turkish representative would be former diplomat Özdem Sanberk. Sanberk said in a June interview that appeared on the Web site of the Turkish think tank that he’s now affiliated with that Israel should apologize and pay compensation for the incident.
“Using extreme power is a crime against humanity; it is the violation of international law,” he said.
“It [Israel] caused deaths by intermeddling a civilian ship that was sailing in international waters, like it did in Gaza,” Sanberk said. “Unarmed civilians protected themselves against Israeli commandos with tools like sticks and a sling in a ship that was sailing in international waters, which does not justify these soldiers to kill nine civilians. The act of Israeli government is violation of international law.”
The UN panel will be headed by Geoffrey Palmer, who was prime minister of New Zealand from 1989-90, with Alvaro Uribe, the outgoing president of Colombia, serving as the panel’s vice chairman.
“As I said when announcing the panel, 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 the statement.
The Presidential Statement Ban referred to called for a “full investigation into the matter” and for a “prompt, impartial, credible and transparent investigation conforming to international standards.”
Netanyahu told the cabinet that the UN panel would be given the findings of the Turkel committee, as well as the findings from a Turkish committee that had been set up, and “give recommendations for the future.”
He said Israel was involved in the establishment of the UN panel in New York, including selecting the members and deciding on its mandate. He added that he believed the international community would take its lead from this committee, and not from one set up by the “anti-Israel” UN Human Rights Council in Geneva. Israel has said it would not cooperate with that committee.