Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu opposes United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon's proposal for an international investigative committee into the Gaza flotilla affair. Netanyahu has not officially rejected the proposal, but people close to him say he is studying other options.
The forum of seven senior ministers convened yesterday 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.
Just before the meeting of the septet, Netanyahu received a phone call from French President Nicolas Sarkozy, urging him to accept Ban's proposal. Sarkozy told Netanyahu that Israel must agree to a credible and impartial investigation, and that France would be willing to take part in such a panel.
The U.S. administration has also been discussing with Israel the establishment of an investigative committee. Senior administration officials reportedly believe that Ban's proposal - a committee with an Israeli and a Turkish representative - includes very important components.
The officials said that such a committee could expose links between Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and the IHH, a Turkish humanitarian aid fund with alleged terror connections, and thus bring out the real story and rehabilitate Israel's image internationally. The senior American officials said that a suitable mandate must be created in which Israeli soldiers are not questioned, but a committee of this nature is not a bad idea.
Netanyahu also discussed Ban's proposal to appoint former New Zealand prime minister Geoffrey Palmer chairman of the committee, both at yesterday's cabinet meeting and at a meeting of the Likud ministers. "There are many proposals for all kinds of committees, but we don't want a problematic precedent to be set here for future events. The decision must be made calmly and reasonably," the prime minister said.
Netanyahu told the ministers that he had not agreed to the secretary general's proposal. "I told him that the facts would have to be clarified responsibly and objectively," he said.
The prime minister added that he told Ban that members of an extremist terror-supporting group from Turkey had been aboard the Mavi Marmara, and those who organized, funded and outfitted them, and how they got on board, would have to be probed.
Defense Minister Ehud Barak told a meeting of Labor ministers that there should be no hurry in establishing a panel to probe the affair. "Do the Americans establish a committee of inquiry every time things happen in Afghanistan?" he asked. According to a person present at a closed meeting with the defense minister recently, Barak said he thought the committee should wait "another two-three weeks and everyone will forget and the pressure on us will dissipate."
Also at yesterday's cabinet meeting, Netanyahu told the ministers that he spoke at the end of last week with Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou and Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borisov, both of whose countries border on Turkey and have historical obligations to it. "They are very worried about the situation that has been created, and the source of their concern is clear to me," Netanyahu said.