Rift appears over Gaza flotilla report
ISTANBUL - Hürriyet Daily News | 5/12/2011 12:00:00 AM | BARÇIN YİNANÇ
The UN panel investigating Israel's deadly flotilla raid faces a major stalemate, with Turkey threatening to drop out over draft language that it says favors Israel.
The U.N. panel investigating Israel’s deadly raid on a Gaza-bound aid flotilla faces a major stalemate, with Turkey threatening to drop out over wording in a draft report that it sees as favoring the Israeli view.
Ankara’s strong reaction to the draft wording, which falls short of saying Israel violated international law in the raid last year, has delayed the announcement of the panel’s findings.
“There is a crack on the panel. The talks are not going well. There is a rough draft that is being worked on,” a diplomatic source told the Hürriyet Daily News on Thursday.
“U.N. panels always try to find a middle ground. It is very rare that one ends up blaming only one side. Both Israel and Turkey are trying to prove that they are 100 percent right,” the source added, noting that the outcome might make both sides unhappy.
“We wish there was another way Turkey and Israel could solve this problem,” the source said.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon set up the panel after Israeli soldiers raided the Mavi Marmara, the lead ship of an international flotilla trying to breach Israel’s blockade of the Gaza strip, on May 31, 2010, leading to the death of 8 Turks and one American of Turkish descent. Relations between Turkey and Israel have been strained ever since.
The panel is led by Geoffrey Palmer, the former prime minister of New Zealand and an expert in international maritime law.
Israel, in an unprecedented move, agreed to cooperate with the four-person panel, which includes one representative each from Turkey and Israel. The panel listened for the last time to the representatives of the two governments during the last week of April and was expected to make its findings public this month.
The first draft of the panel’s report, which was handed to both sides prior to making it public, infuriated Turkey, which threatened to disassociate itself from the report unless radical changes were made.
The panel seems to be operating from the premise that Israel’s maritime blockade on Gaza does not breach international law, the Daily News has learned from diplomatic sources.
This premise weakens Turkey’s argument that Israel violated international law by attacking the flotilla in international waters. There is ongoing debate in the international arena on whether Israel’s blockade is lawful and the issue remains one of the most controversial dimensions of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
The first draft does, however, accuse Israel of resorting to excessive use of violence that led to the death of the nine Turkish nationals. It asks Israel to pay compensation, one of the two conditions Turkey demanded be fulfilled to normalize ties with Israel. The early version of the draft does not include a call on Israel to apologize, which is Ankara’s second condition.
The Turkish government blames behind-the-scenes interference from the United States for the outcome that it believes lets Israel off the hook.
Özdem Sandberk, a former diplomat who also served as deputy undersecretary of the Foreign Ministry, is the Turkish member of the panel. Joseph Ciechanover is the Israeli member.
Turkey has long been Israel’s most important ally in the Middle East and the two countries enjoyed good relations until Israel’s deadly attack on the Gaza Strip during the last days of 2008, which drew strongly criticism from Turkey.