[Published 3 August 2010]
Israel is to be applauded for its agreement to participate in the Inquiry announced yesterday by UN Secretary-General Ban-Ki moon into the aborted attempt on 31 May by a flotilla of six ships to break the naval blockade imposed by Israel on the entry of goods and supplies into Gaza.
This Inquiry - first mooted in a statement by the UN Security Council on 1 June - called for :
” a prompt, impartial, credible and transparent investigation conforming to international standards"
The attempt by another United Nations organ - the Human Rights Council (UNHRC) - to hijack such an investigation and inflict as much political damage as it could on Israel has now been effectively terminated by the Secretary-General’s announcement.
The UNHRC on 23 June had indicated it would be initiating an investigation - which promised to be biased and far from independent - one that Israel could not possibly co-operate with.
The UNHRC had already prejudged the issues as was clearly evident in the terms of the resolution that it passed:
“to dispatch an independent, international fact-finding mission to investigate violations of international law, including international humanitarian and human rights law, resulting from the Israeli attacks on the flotilla of ships carrying humanitarian assistance;"
Any idea that there might not have been any violations of international law or that the ships might not have been carrying only humanitarian assistance had already been predetermined by the UNHRC in this blatantly worded resolution.
Israel had been effectively hung drawn and quartered by the UNHRC before the members of its Inquiry had even been named.
So far as the UNHRC was concerned it had:
(i) Condemned in the strongest terms the outrageous attack by the Israeli forces against the humanitarian flotilla of ships, which resulted in the killing and injuring of many innocent civilians from different countries;
(ii) Deeply deplored the loss of life of innocent civilians, and expresses its deepest sympathy and condolences to the victims and their families;
(iii) Called upon the occupying Power, Israel, to immediately lift the siege on occupied Gaza and other occupied territories;
without hearing one word from Israel.
This identical pattern of prejudging Israel had been established by the UNHRC when appointing the Goldstone Inquiry into Israel’s invasion of Gaza in December 2008. Israel had no option but to then refuse becoming a sacrificial lamb in such an Inquiry whose outcome had been pre-determined before the Commission had even begun its work and whose Commissioners were totally conflicted by statements they had made before their appointment. Any hope of Israel getting a fair hearing were doomed from the outset.
The UN has proved far more circumspect on this latest occasion and the UNHRC has been sent packing.
Israel’s agreement to now participate in the Secretary-General’s Inquiry - to be co-chaired by New Zealand’s Sir Geoffrey Palmer and Columbia’s Alvaro Uriba with the addition of one representative from Israel and one from Turkey - promises to provide a fair and transparent setting for the determination of the events that lead to the blockade being instituted, the attempts to undermine it and the tragic consequences that followed.
Issues such as the legality of the blockade and its enforcement, provocation, the use of force, disproportionate use of force and acting in self defence will be examined and appropriate judgements made.
The terms of reference are still to be finalised but Sir Jeffrey Palmer has charted an optimistic course stating:
“I can’t say anything of substance on the details of this inquiry or indeed its procedures until I’ve been to New York and discussed the issues with both the Secretary General [Ban Ki-moon] and my colleagues on the inquiry… This is a very sensitive matter. It’s a quasi-judicial inquiry, so it is really very important to maintain a sense of detachment”
Hopefully the details and procedures when released will prove to be fair and balanced and enable Israel and Turkey to appoint representatives to the Committee and allow its deliberations to proceed in an atmosphere of calm. The Inquiry should certainly serve to ease tensions between Israel and Turkey.
Hopes are high that the UN might at last have hit on a path to reducing conflict that will see the last of any flawed and unreliable inquiries such as that conducted by Goldstone.
Israel’s Prime Minister Netanyahu has said - following the announcement of the Inquiry:
“Israel has nothing to hide. Quite the opposite: The State of Israel’s national interest is to ensure that the factual truth on the entire raid incident will be known to the world”
Israel’s President - Shimon Peres - is confident Israel will be exonerated.
In an interview with Benny Morris published on 26 July Peres was asked and responded to the following questions:
“Q: About the Turkish flotilla, do you think we acted correctly?
A: We acted correctly, except in terms of explaining what happened.
Q: We killed nine Turks, they killed no Israelis.
A: There were six boats. Only on one — where they came prepared for violence — was there a clash. There was a long delay in broadcasting our explanation. There is no starvation in Gaza and no siege. If Gaza would agree not to rocket us, we would leave the entry points open.
Q: But we prevented items like cardamom from reaching Gaza.
A: OK, we made some mistakes. [But] we made another mistake—we restrained ourselves for eight years and allowed them to shoot thousands of rockets at us until the rage came out at one go [in the IDF assault on Hamas in Gaza in 2008-2009]. Had we done then what we do now, retaliate each time they fire a rocket — there would have been no problem. In the end, it turned out that restraint was a mistake"
Israel will now be given the chance of fully explaining what happened in a forum that will hopefully act responsibly and carefully without resort to reliance on innuendo and unsubstantiated allegations.
The precedent created by this Inquiry could lead to the UN undertaking similar inquiries into future international incidents between conflicting antagonists.
It serves to end the political grandstanding and double standards of organizations such as the UNHRC and the Arab League - whose member countries include some of the worst abusers of human rights and violators of international law among the international community.