Israel and the United Nations have effectively struck a deal whereby Israel will cooperate with a General Assembly probe into the spring’s flotilla raid. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon today announced the panel and its four members: A former New Zealand prime minister; the outgoing Colombian president; and Turkish and Israeli representatives. The panel will commence August 10. (Presumably this was all discussed when Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak visited Turtle Bay last week.)
“Israel has nothing to hide,” said Prime Minister Netanyahu. “The opposite is true. It is in Israel’s national interest to ensure that the factual truth about the entire flotilla incident will be brought to light and the entire world, and that is precisely the principle we are promoting.” The United States has duly backed the deal.
This is a fascinating gamble.
Both the United Nations and Israel have determined that they do not want a replay of the Goldstone Report—in which a panel convened by the U.N. Human Rights Council over which Israel had no influence and with which it did not cooperate made strong condemnations that Israel immediately wrote off as biased, thereby changing precisely no one in the world’s opinion of what happened during the 2009 Gaza conflict. In a sense, both parties are admitting they screwed up: The Goldstone Report had less power than the U.N. would have wished because Israel dismissed it from the outset; and, because Israel dismissed it from the outset, it said things Israel did not want it to say. Instead, Israel will be able to shape this investigation (which will supersede the planned probe from the UNHRC), and its findings.
But! That means that Israel will be more persuasively implicated in whatever the probe produces. If it for the most part exonerates Israel—if it finds that the nine civilian deaths were the result of poor Israeli planning (which Israel has more or less admitted) and the hostile threats Israeli soldiers faced upon boarding the Mavi Marmara—then that could carry significant cachet with nations and people around the world who are amenable to persuasion that Israel did not, essentially, murder nine civilians in cold blood. If, however, the probe finds deeper Israeli guilt, then that too could carry significant cachet around the world, to Israel’s detriment.
The one way in which Israel might be playing with some sort of advantage at the outset concerns the expectations game. This is the United Nations—no one expects it to have particularly nice things to say about Israel. A condemnation would have to be stark, in the Goldstone fashion, for it to be especially newsworthy.