Israel Still Balking at External Gaza Flotilla Probe, Despite Growing World Pressure

Netanyahu holds telephone conversation with number of allies, including Biden and Sarkozy, after voicing rejection to UN proposal for joint probe.

Top Israeli ministers have still not reached a final decision on whether to accept a United Nations proposal for an international probe into the Israel Navy's deadly raid on a Gaza-bound aid flotilla, despite growing international pressure to allow an external and objective investigation of the matter.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's forum of seven ministers convened Sunday evening to discuss the matter, but the meeting ended at around 11 p.m. without a decision. Netanyahu and most of the ministers apparently prefer an Israeli probe in which Americans and other foreigners would have observer status.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem on Thursday, 3 June, 2010.
Getty images

Netanyahu spoke by telephone Sunday evening with a number of close allies, including U.S. Vice President Joe Biden, French President Nicolas Sarkozy, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, Georgian Prime Minister Nika Gilauri and United Nations envoy Tony Blair.

The Israeli leader emphasized during these conversations, as he has since the proposal was first made, that Israel had acted in self-defense just like any other country would if faced with the threat of thousands of missiles and rockets.

Sarkozy urged PNetanyahu during their phone conversation to accepted the United Nations proposal,  and even offered France's help in such a probe. Sarkozy also stressed the urgent need for a solution to end Israel's blockade of Hamas-ruled Gaza in a way that would also guarantee Israel's security, according to a statement from the French president's office.

Israel earlier Sunday rejected the proposal for a joint international probe, saying it had the right to launch an internal investigation.

"We are rejecting an international commission. We are discussing with the Obama administration a way in which our inquiry will take place," Michael Oren, Israel's ambassador to Washington, said on the U.S. TV program "Fox News Sunday".

United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon had suggested establishing a panel that would be headed by former New Zealand prime minister Geoffrey Palmer and include representatives from Turkey, Israel and the United States, an Israeli official said earlier in Jerusalem.

Netanyahu discussed the proposal for a multinational panel with Ban in a telephone call on Saturday but told cabinet ministers from his right-wing Likud party on Sunday that Israel was exploring other options, political sources said.

"I told [Ban] that the investigation of the facts must be carried out responsibly and objectively," Netanyahu told ministers. "We need to consider the issue carefully and level-headedly, while maintaining Israel's national interests as well as those of the Israel Defense Forces."

The prime minister said he told Ban that some of the passengers aboard the stormed the Mavi Marmara were members of an extremist terror-backing Turkish organization. He stressed that any investigation into the event should determine who organized these extremists, who funded them and supplied them with equipment, and how they ended up on the ship.

Netanyahu also discussed the Israeli blockade on Gaza, saying that discussions surrounding the easing of the blockade had begun before the flotilla ever set sail.

"Our desire is to facilitate the transfer of civilian and humanitarian goods to the civilian population, while preventing the transfer of weapons and warfare materials." He added that "the provocative flotilla will not stop us from discussing this, and we are considering proposals on the topic made by friendly nations."
The prime minister further told the cabinet that he spoke with U.S. Vice President Joe Biden over the weekend as well as the prime ministers of Greece and Bulgaria.

Nine Turks were killed on Monday in the Israeli commando raid on the Mavi Marmara, part of a six-vessel convoy that set out to challenge an Israeli-led blockade.

Israel has said its troops used lethal force in self-defense after they were set upon by pro-Palestinian activists wielding clubs and knives.

Israeli leaders have spoken publicly about setting up an internal investigation with foreign observers into the interception of the Turkish-flagged ship off the coast of Gaza, an enclave run by Hamas Islamists who oppose Western-backed Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas's peace efforts with Israel.

"Israel is a democratic nation. Israel has the ability and the right to investigate itself, not to be investigated by any international board," Oren said.

Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, speaking on CNN, said Ankara would insist on an independent commission and suggested that Israel's rejection of an international inquiry showed it wanted to cover up the facts of the raid.

"We want to know the facts. If Israel rejects this, it means it is also another proof of their guilt. They are not self-confident to face the facts," he said.
Turkey's relations with Israel, once a close ally, have soured badly since the deadly raid.

Israel's navy boarded another ship carrying aid and pro-Palestinian activists to Gaza on Saturday. Its interception of the Irish-owned MV Rachel Corrie ended without violence following diplomatic efforts to avoid bloodshed.

"I want to pay tribute to the crew of the Rachel Corrie for demonstrating in no uncertain terms their peaceful intentions," Irish Foreign Minister Micheal Martin told Irish public radio RTE. "We of course communicated that relentlessly to the Israeli authorities."

An Israeli official said Israel wanted to establish whether the Turkish government had sponsored the Mavi Marmara, where the strength of the resistance to the boarding party appeared to have caught the Israeli military off guard. Israel has said seven of its troops were wounded.