The National
August 9, 2010 - 12:00am

What are the chances that Israel will be held accountable for the fatal raid on the Gaza aid flotilla in May? If history is any precedent, it is difficult to be optimistic. Last week, the United Nations announced that a panel would investigate the attack, an investigation in which Israel has since agreed to participate.

It is certainly a more credible exercise than Israel’s own internal review launched in June, which did little to quell international outrage. But even that was an admission that an investigation was needed. There are disputed accounts of what happened when Israel’s special forces stormed the deck of the MV Mavi Marmara. What is certain is that nine Turkish activists, including one with dual American citizenship, were killed in the aftermath.

Turkey furiously recalled its ambassador, suspended joint military exercises and demanded a formal apology and compensation for the deaths of its citizens, as well as the lifting of Gaza’s blockade.

Israel’s accession to the UN inquiry is in part a reaction to international, especially Turkish, outrage. But while Ankara and other governments have insisted on holding Israel to account, we are uncertain to what degree a UN-backed panel will do so.

Certainly, Israel’s decision to accept rather than reject the inquiry could be perceived as a step forward. After the Gaza war in 2008-2009, the categorical rejection of the Goldstone Report showed how ready Israel was to ignore the opinion of the wider world. But in this case, its deputy prime minister, Dan Meridor, told Israel’s Army Radio last week that the co-operation was meant “for Turkey and Israel to find a way to bring relations back to a better place”.

The point of the inquiry, however, is not to mend fences. In reality, the UN panel is severely limited. According to Israeli reports, it will not be able to subpoena or investigate Israeli military or civilian personnel, curtailing access to first-hand testimony. Documents will be limited to Israel and Turkey’s internal inquiries, ignoring reports from the UN’s own Human Rights Council.

Taken with Benjamin Netanyahu’s confident assertion that “Israel was involved in the process of setting up the committee, writing its mandate and selecting its members”, it remains to be seen whether this UN panel can conduct a credible investigation. If it cannot, a whitewash would do more harm than good.

The four-member panel meets tomorrow. They should not be written off in advance, but equally they should be measured by their success. Regardless, Israel has nine lives – and the siege of Gaza – to answer for.


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