Monday, June 14, 2010

News Flash: Israel Proposes Framework for Investigation of Flotilla Incident

By Barry Rubin

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has proposed a limited international investigation to look at the Gaza flotilla incident. The investigation would include as official international observers: Ken Watkin of Canada and David Trimble of Northern Ireland. Presumably this has been agreed to with the United States as an alternative to a UN-organized, anti-Israel investigation.

The members of the commission would be:

Retired Supreme Court Judge Jacob Turkel (chair);

Prof. Shabtai Rosen, winner of the Israel Prize for jurisprudence and the Hague Prize for International Law;

Former Technion President, Maj.-Gen. (ret.) Amos Horev

There are four points to be investigated:

1. Examine the security aspects of the naval blockade on Gaza and adjusting it in accordance with international law.

2. Examine Israel's actions to enforce the naval blockade and prevent the international flotilla from reaching Gaza on May 31, 2010 with respect to international law.

3. Examine the actions of the organizers of the (Gaza) flotilla and identifying its participants.

4. Examine whether Israel's process of looking into complaints of Israeli violations of the Laws of War--as was implemented during the said incident--corresponds with the country's obligations vis-à-vis international law.

This is a clever response since it has an international aspect but also preserves Israeli sovereignty since the two foreign representatives are observers.

What is the Obama Administration's position? Presumably, it has secretly agreed to this approach. At the UN Security Council, the U.S. position supported an investigation but not necessarily a UN-led one. Now we will have to see how strongly it fights for this alternative or retreats under the demands of Turkey and other countries at the UN.

Point 1 shows that Israel is willing to make adjustments in the blockade to answer any well-intended criticisms. Point 2 will look at any possible mistakes by Israel. Point 3 is intended to include an examination of the motives and actions of the flotilla participants, aimed at showing how there was a Jihadist element which sought to foment a violent confrontation. Point 4 would consider whether Israel had a right to act as it did under international law.

This is a good outcome if it is implemented as planned. It seems likely that Turkey and others would try to ram through the UN Security Council an investigation of its own. Will the United States veto such a resolution if necessary?

The Israeli cabinet must still approve this plan.

Watkin served as a Canadian Forces legal officer for more than 25 years and has been involved in inquiries arising from the 1994 genocide in Rwanda. He is Canada's former judge advocate general. Canada has welcomed the decision.

Trimble was a leader of the Protestant community in Northern Ireland who negotiated the successful conciliation agreement with the Catholics and has since been involved in international peacekeeping efforts.

Sources: See here for the official announcement and here for an article about it. Here is an article about U.S. policy on the issue.

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