JERUSALEM (Reuters) - A long-awaited U.N. report on Israel’s lethal interception of a Gaza-bound Turkish activist ship appears to have both supported and rejected core arguments made by the former allies.
Following is an overview of the conclusions of the panel set up by U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and headed by former New Zealand premier Geoffrey Palmer, and implications for the Israeli-Turkish feud.
* Israel’s naval blockade on the Palestinian territory is “a legitimate security measure in order to prevent weapons entering Gaza by sea and its implementation complied with the requirements of international law.” Its enforcement “may take place on the high seas and may be conducted by force if a vessel resists.”
These findings clash with Turkey’s condemnation of the blockade as illegal collective punishment. Turkey further argued that Israel’s May 31, 2010 seizure of the Mavi Marmara in international waters was tantamount to “piracy” exacerbated by the killing of nine pro-Palestinian activists on board.
Turkey’s position matches that of a U.N. Human Rights Council inquiry boycotted by the Israelis. The Palmer report’s findings in favor of Israel’s defense doctrine may have an impact on international opinion.
* Israeli marines who boarded the Mavi Marmara “faced significant, organized and violent resistance from a group of passengers ... requiring them to use force for their own protection.” But the overall conduct of the interception was “excessive and unreasonable” and “no satisfactory explanation has been provided to the Panel by Israel for any of the nine deaths.” The report called the loss of life “unacceptable.”
This sequencing appears to support Israel’s insistence that its men resorted to lethal gunfire in self-defense, after coming under attack. The Turks said shooting began before the first marines fast-roped to the Mavi Marmara’s deck from helicopters, but the Palmer report describes this as “unlikely.” It also states that two Israeli marines suffered gunshot wounds, though it stops short of backing Israel’s disputed assertion that activists used firearms.
Israeli commanders may have been made vulnerable to legal scrutiny by the report’s criticism of the timing of the Mavi ship takeover and their failure to try less forceful tactics.
Israel will no doubt also feel stung by report’s blanket censure of how it accounted for the deaths. Jurists who put together Israel’s submission to the Palmer panel said they had extensively documented the use of force by marines.
* While Turkey tried to avert the confrontation at sea, “more could have been done to warn the flotilla participants of the potential risks involved and to dissuade them from their actions.” “There exist serious questions about the conduct, true nature and objectives of the flotilla organizers, particularly (the Turkish Islamist charity) IHH.”
Israel may read this passage as a rebuke of the Turkish government’s relations with the IHH, which the Jewish state outlawed for supporting Hamas. Turkey has distanced itself from the IHH, saying it could not control the actions of private citizens.
* Israel should make “an appropriate statement of regret” and “offer payment for the benefit of the deceased and injured victims and their families.” Turkey and Israel “should resume full diplomatic relations.” Separately, Israel “should continue with its efforts to ease its restrictions on movement of goods and persons to and from Gaza.”
As Israel has already voiced “regret” and was snubbed by Turkey, which insists on a formal apology, the efficacy of Palmer’s recommendation here is unclear.
Similarly, Israel broached sponsoring a fund for Mavi Marmara survivors but balked at Turkey’s demand for compensation, saying that damages payments would amount to an admission of wrongdoing. The Palmer report’s avoidance of the word “compensation” would appear to satisfy Israel’s position.
Israel says it wants to get past the Mavi Marmara incident and restore ties with Turkey, but Turkey says its terms must first be satisfied. These include an end to the naval blockade on Gaza -- which Israel rules out, though it has eased overland access to the Palestinian territory.
Writing by Dan Williams; editing by Tim Pearce