Questions Arise About the UN Investigation into Israel's Action Regarding Flotilla
Obama administration assurances prove empty.
The secretary general’s spokesperson also contradicted Rice’s account. He told a press briefing on Monday that the panel has been “tasked with making findings about the facts and circumstances and context of the incident... and one assumes that it will be necessary to ask…for more information…It isn’t just receiving and reviewing the reports…” In response to a question about whether the panel could interview witnesses, including members of the Israel Defense Forces, the spokesperson responded, “It’s for them [the panel] to decide whether to ask.” And on Thursday, the spokesperson disputed the notion that the focus of the panel was on the future. He said, the “Panel of Inquiry…is looking back at that incident and…it’s looking into the facts.”
At bottom, it appears that the mandate of the panel is actually still up in the air. On Monday the secretary general’s spokesperson said, “it will be for the panel to decide exactly how they will operate and decide on what steps may need to be taken in order to obtain…information from the national authorities.” The secretary general’s office has refused to release a copy of the panel’s mandate, despite requests from states, NGOs, and members of the press. And on Thursday, a senior official in Ban’s Office said that there are no “terms of reference” for the panel yet because “nothing is finalized or agreed.” He added, “at this point, there might be different drafts of possible terms of reference”. The panel will have four members, only one will be Israeli, and will operate by consensus “where possible.” So if the terms of reference are really undecided, or Israel has been misled as to their content, their definition has now slipped beyond Israel’s control.
Nor is there agreement on the ultimate goal of the inquiry. Rice suggested the end game was a diplomatic reconciliation between Turkey and Israel, while Turkey and other Muslim states have a much different agenda. Turkey said on Tuesday: “This problem is not just a matter between Turkey and Israel; it’s an international problem.” The Malaysian government said on the same day that it “believes that the ultimate aim of the Panel’s investigation must be to bring to justice the perpetrators of the attack against the humanitarian flotilla” – that is, to deliver Israeli heads on a platter. To drive the point home, Malaysia proceeded to urge this week that yet another General Assembly emergency special session on Israel be convened.
With American assurances not worth the piece of paper they are apparently not written on, Israel should rethink its decision to cooperate with the secretary general’s investigation – before the inevitable witch hunt begins.
Anne Bayefsky is a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute and director of the Touro Institute on Human Rights and the Holocaust.