Buried at Sea: Turkish Government Threatens to Boycott UN Panel Report on Mavi Marmara "Incident"

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Turkish Government Threatens to Boycott UN Panel Report on Mavi Marmara "Incident"
by Richard Lightbown
The Turkish government has threatened to disassociate itself from the report of the UN Panel of Inquiry into the Gaza flotilla ‘incident’ because the draft report does not say that the Israeli forces violated international law.
The final report was due to be released in late May, but a diplomatic source is reported to have said that the talks are not going well and that the rough draft was being “worked on”.
Israel had also threatened to pull out of the inquiry when it was set up in 2010. Prime Minister Netanyahu had insisted that the Panel would not be allowed to examine any Israeli troops, saying that he would not allow the commission to harm “the vital interests of Israel”.

This is the first time that Israel has ever agreed to cooperate with an international inquiry. Lengthy negotiations prior to the setting up of the inquiry meant that its mandate was seriously restricted. The Panel does not have a mandate to take action against any country; however its findings could lead to action by the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.

The Panel is chaired by Sir Geoffrey Palmer, an expert on constitutional law who was briefly Prime Minister of New Zealand, and later that countries’ representative on the International Whaling Commission.  Also on the Panel are the former President of Colombia, Alvaro Uribe, and one representative each from Turkey and Israel. Mr Uribe’s appointment was widely regarded as controversial because of allegations of human rights abuses against his administration, and also because Israel had been its largest arms supplier.

Both governments had set up their own commissions of inquiry to prepare reports which were submitted to the Panel. The Turkish inquiry had received testimony from more than 100 witnesses who had been on the flotilla. The Israeli inquiry, known as the Turkel Commission, had only heard direct testimony from two witnesses who had been on the flotilla, although it had received second hand
testimony from 38 soldiers and written statements from a further 58 persons.

Hϋrriyet Daily News reported on 12 May that it had learned from a diplomatic source that the UN Panel seemed to working on the premise that Israel’s maritime blockade was lawful. This particular issue has been widely debated in international fora. The Turkel Commission unsurprisingly found that the blockade was legal, citing Prof Shabtai Rosenne who had written that crippling an enemy’s
external trade was a legitimate object in armed conflict. However Prof Rosenne had been writing in 1946, three years before the adoption of the Fourth Geneva Convention.
In contrast the UN Human Rights Council’s Fact-Finding Mission had decided that the blockade infringed the Fourth Geneva Convention and was therefore unlawful. (The Mission was chaired by Judge Hudson-Phillips, who had served as a judge at the International Court of Justice.) This opinion is shared by the Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights in the Palestinian Territories,
and has also been publically stated by the International Committee of the Red Cross. The Panel’s draft report is understood to state that Israel used excessive violence which resulted in the death of nine passengers on the Mavi Marmara, and to ask Israel to pay compensation.
Previously Israel has refused to consider this, allegedly because it would amount to an admission of guilt which might expose Israeli military personnel to prosecution in another country under the principle of universal jurisdiction. The draft report apparently does not call on Israel to apologize, which is a condition required by the Turkish government for the restoration of normal relations.
The dispute at the UN is likely to result in a delay in the release of the final report. The process had previously been delayed by more than five months by the late publication of the Turkel report. With both sides seeking to prove that they are 100 per cent right the outcome is likely to leave both sides dissatisfied and could result in yet further delays.

Meanwhile the organizers of the next flotilla ‘Freedom Flotilla – stay Human’ have announced that they will sail for Gaza in late June. No precise details are available yet but it appears that the flotilla will be even larger and will be carrying more people. Amongst them will be many who survived the last attempt and who will be intent on getting to Gaza to finish the job they started last year. They will be joined this time by the mother of murdered activist Vittorio Arrigoni (killed by Palestinian renegades widely considered to have been working for Israeli undercover agencies) who is intent on seeing the strip of land that had such a fascination for her son.

The delay in the preparation of the UN Panel’s report could mean that its publication will follow the sailing of the flotilla. This places Israeli leaders in a further quandary over the self-imposed problems created by the closure of Gaza. If they attack the flotilla and cause injuries to civilians while the Panel is still debating their previous assault anything less than outright condemnation will be widely regarded as a whitewash. On the other hand letting the flotilla pass might be seen as a loss of face, particularly following the
reconciliation between Fatah and Hamas. As the pressure mounts it appears increasingly likely that public opinion, (by internationals at sea complimenting Egyptian popular pressure to open Rafah Crossing) is about to finish the job that the politicians have flunked.
To paraphrase Ronald Reagan: Mr Netanyahu, tear down that wall.


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