Hundreds of hours of work by attorneys, diplomats and officers were invested in the 270-page Israeli report on Operation Protective Edge in the Gaza Strip. The result was a comprehensive, detailed and well-formulated document. And yet, the report’s efficacy is dubious. It would be no exaggeration to say that its impact on Israel’s international standing, its legal position and its public image will barely be felt.
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The Israeli report was published on Sunday, so as to come out ahead of the UN Human Rights Council report on the war in Gaza, which may be released on Monday. One of the main aims of the Israeli report was to try to influence the way the UNHRC report will be covered in the international media over the next few days. It is unlikely this goal will be achieved.
Few Israeli or international correspondents attended Sunday’s press conference at the Foreign Ministry, where the main points of the report were presented. Despite the serious work invested in it, the report provided no new information. Moreover, the three jurists selected to be the report’s “presenters” had trouble piquing anyone’s interest or summing up the report in sound bites that would lead media coverage.
Although the report is serious, it is not much more than a particularly long PR document by the government of Israel. That is the way it will be perceived by the few people who read it from beginning to end, or by the few who read its summary. In the world of 2015, especially in the West, this is no longer enough.
If the government of Israel wants to persuade people of the rightness of the decisions it made and the actions it took last summer, it must establish an independent commission of inquiry in which international figures take part. That is exactly what was done by the Turkel Commission that examined the events of the 2010 Turkish flotilla to Gaza. The report that commission issued had decisive importance, in view of the investigation commissioned by the UN secretary general, which determined that Israel did not contravene international law when it took over the Mavi Marmara.
One of the main reasons the Israeli report on the Gaza war is no more than an academic exercise is that Israel decided to boycott the UN Human Rights Council probe. A major part of the decision not to cooperate with the council was emotional, but another part of it was rooted in logic. After all, the UN Human Rights Council has a clear bias against Israel and the probe into the Gaza war was headed by the anti-Israeli legal expert William Schabas.
Nevertheless, the decision to boycott the Human Rights Council investigation became less logical and reasonable after Schabas resigned because of a clear conflict of interest, and was replaced by the American jurist Mary McGowan Davis. The latter, who holds balanced views toward Israel, wrote a report a few years ago stating that the Israel Defense Forces investigations following Operation Cast Lead (December 2008-January 2009) had taken too long, but were carried out properly and with major effort on Israel’s part.
If Israel had changed its mind and cooperated with McGowan-Davis on the Operation Protective Edge probe, and presented her with the findings of its own report, it is highly likely the outcome of the UNHRC report would have been improved. The fact that this did not happen raises the suspicion that the government in Jerusalem boycotted the commission only to be able to claim at the end of the day that the panel is a bunch of anti-Semites, and that the whole world is against us.
But the most serious problem about the Israeli report released Sunday is that it suffers from the same problem that Israeli government policy has suffered ever since Benjamin Netanyahu entered the prime minister’s office in 2009. Over the past six years, it seems Netanyahu and his people are trying to solve every diplomatic problem Israel faces by finding a clever, winning argument that will persuade the world that Israel is right. But the way to gain the world’s support is by acting, not talking. An Israeli diplomatic initiative to rehabilitate the Gaza Strip in cooperation with the international community would have worked better than any report.