First, the details of the proposed investigation:
The cabinet is set to approve Monday [it did, unanimously] the establishment of an independent public committee to examine events around Israel’s takeover of a Gaza-bound aid flotilla, in which nine Turkish activists were killed.
The committee will include two international observers and tackle the legality of the blockade of Gaza and the legality of the navy’s actions. The committee will also determine whether investigations of claims of war crimes and breaches of international law conform to the Western standards.
A retired Supreme Court justice, Jacob Turkel, will head the committee, whose members will included Shabtai Rosen, 93, a professor of international law who is an Israel Prize laureate in legal sciences and a Hague Prize laureate in international law. Also on the panel will be Maj. Gen. (res. ) Amos Horev, former president of the Technion – Israel Institute of Technology.
The White House quickly declared itself pleased with these arrangements:
“Israel has a military justice system that meets international standards and is capable of conducting a serious and credible investigation,” the White House said in a statement.
In the statement, the White House promised not to prejudge the outcome of the inquiry but made clear it expected Israel to present the results openly.
Others are not as confident that Israel can conduct a fair or impartial investigation of its own actions on May 31. Hamas, not surprisingly or unreasonably, accused Israel of using the internal commission idea as a way to avoid international scrutiny. United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon announced that the UN would proceed with a separate, international investigation.
Mahmoud Abbas, president of the Palestinian National Authority, criticized the Israeli commission because it didn’t “correspond with the requirements of the Security Council.”
Turkey has also rejected the idea of Israel investigating itself:
Turkey and Palestinians have attacked Israel’s announcement that it is creating an internal committee to probe its deadly raid on a Gaza-bound aid flotilla last month, saying it did not comply with UN demands.
Ahmet Davutoglu, the Turkish foreign minister, said Israel was incapable of conducting an “impartial investigation,” while Hamas, the body governing the Gaza Strip, said the country’s continuing refusal to accept an international probe proved its guilt.
The Globe and Mail has an interesting piece suggesting that PM Netanyahu did not care if the design and scope of the commission made it credible to the Palestinians, or to Turkey, or Arab leaders, or any of Israel’s critics, as long as the U.S. and the few other nations friendly to Israel approved of it:
When Israel went shopping for a pair of international observers to join its inquiry into the deadly boarding of a Gaza-bound flotilla two weeks ago, more than experience, training or integrity, it was looking for credibility.
The question remains whether the appointment of Nobel Prize winner Lord David Trimble and retired Canadian brigadier-general Ken Watkin is enough to lift what critics see as a hollow exercise into a meaningful inquiry.
The Security Council called for “a prompt, impartial, credible and transparent investigation conforming to international standards.”
Neither Turkey nor the Palestinian Authority believes that Israel’s internal inquiry measures up.
“We have no trust at all that Israel … will conduct an impartial investigation,” Turkey’s Foreign Minister, Ahmet Davutoglu, said on Monday after the panel was announced.
But Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had never counted on pleasing them or other critics of Israel. He told his cabinet Monday that the purpose guiding the creation of the inquiry was to provide “a credible and convincing response to the responsible countries in the international community.”
That’s not to every country, just the “responsible countries” such as the United States, Canada, Australia and some countries in Europe, says Mark Heller, principal research associate at the Institute for National Security Studies at Tel Aviv University. “I don’t think [Israel] cares one way or the other what Turkey thinks,” Mr. Heller said. “Israel’s written it off.”
So far, the United States and Canada alone have endorsed the inquiry – Washington called it “a step forward” – and Israel hopes that Britain will support it, especially with Lord Trimble, the former first minister of Northern Ireland, on board.
Edmond Sanders, reporting from Jerusalem for the Los Angeles Times, says that Israelis have “mixed feelings” about the investigation:
With a sense of relief and a touch of anxiety, Israelis braced themselves Monday for another high-profile probe of their military’s conduct.
Relief stemmed from the hope that an Israeli-led commission, approved by the government Monday, will head off U.N. calls for an international inquiry into Israel’s May 31 raid on an aid flotilla seeking to break its blockade of the Gaza Strip. Nine Turkish activists were killed in the operation.
Anxiety persists, however, because recent inquiries into the military have led to political shake-ups and painful soul-searching.
However, Sanders also points out that support for the government is not universal, and that in fact there is a “growing domestic backlash over the raid.”
Netanyahu said during a Cabinet meeting Monday that the commission’s work would “make it clear to the entire world that the state of Israel acts according to law, transparently and with full responsibility.”But critics noted that the commission lacks a free hand to set its own mandate and doesn’t have the independence and investigative authority of a so-called national inquiry commission, which is appointed by the Supreme Court and has subpoena powers.
In recent days, one newspaper dismissed the committee as a “debating club,” and a radio commentator called it “coffee without caffeine.”
“This committee is on such a low rung I hesitate whether it can be called an investigation committee at all,” said Moshe Negbi, a legal commentator on Israel Radio.
He questioned whether the committee, which will not be permitted to question soldiers or commanders involved in the raid, will be able to determine whether top military or political leaders acted properly.
That’s the question most Israelis are beginning to ask. Though few people wanted to see an international probe sorting through the country’s dirty laundry, there is a growing domestic backlash over the raid.
The Jerusalem Post gives us the Obama administration’s explanation for why there will not be an international observer from the United States on the panel:
The US was not interested in representation on the Gaza flotilla probe Israel formally set up Monday because it didn’t want to detract from the credibility of the committee or get in the middle of friction between its two closest Middle East allies, according to diplomatic officials.
The officials said there was concern in Washington that if a US representative sat on the committee, it would – because of the US’s strong support of Israel – detract from the body’s credibility.
The officials also said that Washington was hesitant to take open and public sides in the rift between Turkey and Israel, preferring to work behind the scenes to reduce the tension.
I wasn’t aware anyone expected the U.S. to have a representative on the panel, but since the “diplomatic officials” brought it up, I will say that I find the reasoning laughable. The investigating body already lacks credibility — first, because it’s not independent, and second, because of the White House’s strong and immediate support for it, despite that fact. I think it’s far more likely that the Obama administration does not want a U.S. representative to be part of the investigation because of the unpleasant questions that would raise about the investigation’s conclusions, when they are released — no matter what they are. Obviously, if the panel concludes that Israel did nothing wrong, or nothing significantly wrong, and the U.S. publicly accepts such a conclusion, that’s going to look like a whitewash whether the U.S. was part of the investigation or not. But if the panel concludes that Israel did make significant mistakes, violated international law, acted improperly and recklessly, etc., that would be much more problematic for the administration if a U.S. representative were on the panel and had actually played an active part in reaching that conclusion.
The Obama administration does not want responsibility for the consequences of the panel’s conclusions, regardless of what they are. That’s why it won’t be sending a representative to sit on the panel — not because of any high-minded concerns about the panel’s “credibility.”