UN Chief proposes joint Turkey, Israel and U.S. Gaza flotilla probe
Ban Ki-moon hands Israel proposal for international probe panel headed by ex-New Zealand PM; senior government officials recommend responding favorably because Turkey will probably oppose it.
United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has conveyed a proposal to Israel to set up an international commission of inquiry into the raid on the Gaza-bound aid flotilla a week ago.
The head of the committee would be former New Zealand prime minister Geoffrey Palmer, an expert on maritime law. Committee members would include representatives from the United States, Turkey and Israel.
Senior officials at the Foreign Ministry said Israel should consider the idea favorably.
Top officials in Jerusalem and European diplomats said Ban’s preliminary proposal, which he made in a phone call to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, does not precisely define the committee’s mandate. But it is certain to consider whether Israel’s takeover of the ship the Mavi Marmara contravened international law.
Ban reportedly suggested that he appoint the committee’s chairman and suggested Palmer as a candidate.
Senior government officials said the Foreign Ministry recommends responding favorably to establishing the committee because Turkey will probably oppose it.
“Such a committee will reveal many details about the link between [Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip] Erdogan, the flotilla organizers and the IHH,” a senior official said. He was referring to a Turkish Islamic nongovernmental organization that reportedly has ties to terror groups.
“If the mandate is reasonable and does not include questioning IDF soldiers, such a committee could remove the sting from the affair and neutralize similar future flotillas,” the official added.
Ban’s proposal came after another proposal, for a committee like the one South Korea established after the sinking of one of its navy ships, was rejected. That committee, whose members included South Korea, the United States, Sweden, Canada and Australia, determined that North Korea had sunk the ship. This model, which the United States supported, was rejected by Israel because of the completely different circumstances of the two events.
Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak are said to be leaning toward an examination of the events surrounding the takeover of the Mavi Marmara, with American or other international participation.
A senior source in the Prime Minister’s Bureau noted that Netanyahu opposes the questioning of Israel Defense Forces soldiers, but that he is not ruling out any options regarding “scrutiny of the events.”
According to a source in Barak’s office, “Barak opposes the questioning of soldiers and officers, but he is prepared for an examination under Israeli aegis with the participation of foreign observers.
Talks also continued over the weekend between Israel and the United States about the possibility of easing the blockade of Gaza. Dan Shapiro, head of the Israel desk at the U.S. National Security Council, remained in Israel for further discussions on the matter, after taking part, with special envoy George Mitchell, in proximity talks between Israel and the Palestinians on Thursday and Friday. He met over the weekend with National Security Adviser Uzi Arad, and is to continue his talks on Sunday.
A senior government official said Israel had accepted the U.S. proposal to launch official talks on ways to ease the Gaza blockade. But at this point, Jerusalem has reportedly rejected setting up an international force to check ships seeking to deliver humanitarian aid to Gaza. “That didn’t work in Lebanon or at the Rafah crossing, and it’s doubtful it will work in this case,” the official said.
A senior government official said a new date for the meeting between Netanyahu and U.S. President Barak Obama could be next week, after Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ visit to Washington on Wednesday. However, the Netanyahu-Barak meeting could be postponed until the last week in June.