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Resources updated between Monday, August 02, 2010 and Sunday, August 08, 2010

Friday, August 06, 2010

This article by Anne Bayefsky originally appeared on

Only days after Israel took the unprecedented step of agreeing to participate in a UN investigation on the Gaza flotilla incident, assurances given by the Obama administration have proven to be empty. The episode paints a disturbing picture of the administration's actions in pushing for this investigation, and suggests that Israel's decision to participate should be revisited.

The incident at the end of May left nine dead on one of six boats attempting to break Israel's naval blockade of Gaza. It was the only boat on which Turkish-backed pro-Hamas extremists preferred to attack the Israeli military rather than cooperate with Israel's offer to deliver the goods overland after inspection.

Twenty-four hours later, at breakneck speed for the UN and at odds with its usual pattern of ignoring civilian deaths by the thousands anywhere else, the Security Council issued a presidential statement. With the approval of the Obama administration, the Council called for "a prompt, impartial, credible and transparent investigation conforming to international standards." A day later, the UN Human Rights Council established an allegedly "independent international fact finding mission" with a mandate to report on what it had already declared was Israel's "outrageous attack."

Israel undertook a number of investigations, even adding two international experts to one of them in an extraordinary gesture to placate President Obama. But Muslim states, including Turkey, wanted more. In addition, Secretary General Ban Ki-moon believed that assembling his own investigative committee would be an opportunity to win Muslim support for his bid to win a second-term in office. And the Obama administration, which has enthusiastically embraced the United Nations, refused to oppose the secretary general's plan.

So on August 2, Ban launched his investigation, which got off the ground only because the U.S. pressed Israel to agree, and Israel took American assurances seriously. U.S. ambassador to the UN Susan Rice spelled some of them out: "The United States expects that the Panel will...obviate the need for any overlapping international inquiries." The overlapping inquiry of the Human Rights Council, she claimed, would go away.

At exactly the same time, however, Secretary General Ban Ki-moon released a statement in which he made no reference to the Human Rights Council, and no commitment to seek the dissolution of the Council's investigation.

Two days later the president of the Human Rights Council, Sihasak Phuangketkeow, called Rice's bluff. He told UN radio that "it was crucial that the Council investigate," and said to reporters in Geneva "I feel very strongly that we have to proceed."

Ambassador Rice made other promises. She described the purpose of the panel this way: "[I]t would receive and review the [Turkish and Israeli] reports of each...national investigation...and make recommendations as to how to avoid such incidents in the future. This Panel is not a substitute for those national investigations...The focus of the Panel is appropriately on the future." In other words, the UN inquiry would not supersede Israel's own efforts or launch a new investigation since that would mean focusing on the past.

The Israeli newspaper Haaretz added that the Israeli government believed it had received assurances that "the review panel will not have the authority to subpoena witnesses, including Israel Defense Forces soldiers and officers."

Once again, Rice's story was immediately challenged. The American charge d'affaires in Ankara was reportedly reprimanded by the Turkish foreign ministry because of Rice's remarks. Turkey directly repudiated Rice's characterization of the inquiry's scope. In the words of a senior official speaking on Tuesday to the Turkish Hurriyet Daily News, "saying 'the probe is not a substitute for national investigations' is misleading."

The secretary general's spokesperson also contradicted Rice's account. He told a press briefing on Monday that the panel has been "tasked with making findings about the facts and circumstances and context of the incident... and one assumes that it will be necessary to ask...for more information...It isn't just receiving and reviewing the reports..." In response to a question about whether the panel could interview witnesses, including members of the Israel Defense Forces, the spokesperson responded, "It's for them [the panel] to decide whether to ask." And on Thursday, the spokesperson disputed the notion that the focus of the panel was on the future. He said, the "Panel of looking back at that incident's looking into the facts."

At bottom, it appears that the mandate of the panel is actually still up in the air. On Monday the secretary general's spokesperson said, "it will be for the panel to decide exactly how they will operate and decide on what steps may need to be taken in order to obtain...information from the national authorities." The secretary general's office has refused to release a copy of the panel's mandate, despite requests from states, NGOs, and members of the press. And on Thursday, a senior official in Ban's Office said that there are no "terms of reference" for the panel yet because "nothing is finalized or agreed." He added, "at this point, there might be different drafts of possible terms of reference". The panel will have four members, only one will be Israeli, and will operate by consensus "where possible." So if the terms of reference are really undecided, or Israel has been misled as to their content, their definition has now slipped beyond Israel's control.

Nor is there agreement on the ultimate goal of the inquiry. Rice suggested the end game was a diplomatic reconciliation between Turkey and Israel, while Turkey and other Muslim states have a much different agenda. Turkey said on Tuesday: "This problem is not just a matter between Turkey and Israel; it's an international problem." The Malaysian government said on the same day that it "believes that the ultimate aim of the Panel's investigation must be to bring to justice the perpetrators of the attack against the humanitarian flotilla" that is, to deliver Israeli heads on a platter. To drive the point home, Malaysia proceeded to urge this week that yet another General Assembly emergency special session on Israel be convened.

With American assurances not worth the piece of paper they are apparently not written on, Israel should rethink its decision to cooperate with the secretary general's investigation before the inevitable witch hunt begins.

August 5, 2010

August 4, 2010

August 3, 2010

Monday, August 02, 2010

This article by Anne Bayefsky originally appeared on

President Obama has now blackmailed the government of Israel into submitting its defense forces to the toxic oversight of the United Nations. Today U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon created, with Israel's approval, a UN investigation of last June's flotilla incident in which Turkish-backed extremists sought to shatter Israel's lawful naval blockade of Hamas-run Gaza.

Despite the fact that Israel has already launched an inquiry with international participants, the Obama administration insists that the Israel Defense Forces, and the Israeli legal and political establishment governing their actions, must be subject to UN supervision. U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Susan Rice welcomed Ban's announcement.

Obama's move is a far cry from claims of a recent rapprochement with Israel. Instead of pressuring Israel in front of the cameras, the administration is now using the U.N. as its foil. The sword of Damocles that hung over Prime Minister Netanyahu's head was withdrawal of American veto protection in the Security Council, a United States sitting on the sidelines in the General Assembly and the other U.N. bodies where new forms of anti-Israel censure are always percolating, and a firm U.S. no to any Israeli military effort to stop an Iranian nuclear weapon.

Even Ban Ki-moon today called the development "unprecedented". The U.N. team will be second-guessing the actions taken in self-defense by a democratic state, governed by the rule of law and at war with a terrorist entity committed to its destruction -- on account of an undisputed figure of nine deaths. In the course of war, hundreds of civilians in Afghanistan and Iraq have been killed by American and coalition forces, while undemocratic regimes regularly and deliberately murder thousands, without a peep from the U.N.

If the president tried the same stunt in America, ordering U.S. generals to report to Ban Ki-moon and company and to seek their seal of approval, the uproar would be deafening. But this president has evidently embraced the defining attribute of the U.N. approach to Israel -- double-standards.

Obama's support for the U.N. investigation is part of a major realignment of U.S. foreign policy to synchronize it with an organization dominated by Islamic interests. Within 24 hours of the flotilla incident, the U.S. agreed to a hasty Security Council presidential statement on May 31 that called for "a prompt, impartial, credible and transparent investigation conforming to international standards." Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and other State Department officials let it be known that "credible" to this administration meant credible in the eyes of the U.N. In the Israeli case, the United States is prepared to make the requisites of self-defense subservient to the U.N. mob.

In today's U.N. announcement, Ban Ki-moon named former New Zealand Prime Minister Geoffrey Palmer to head his inquiry. Palmer is closely associated with one of the U.N.'s top officials, Helen Clark, who is currently chief of the U.N. Development Program and chair of the U.N. Development Group. Clark was Palmer's deputy during his time in office and, after becoming prime minister herself, named him to a number of important posts. U.N. officials clearly believe that Palmer shares, or will be influenced by, the biases of those who appointed him. In the midst of the Gaza war in January 2009, Clark blamed Israel for the conflict saying the impact of Hamas rocket attacks "has been but a tiny fraction of that of the Israeli strikes on Gaza." In August 2006 during the Lebanon war, Clark said she found it "hard to believe" that the accidental Israeli bombing of a U.N. observation post in Lebanon was anything but deliberate.

Today's announcement does nothing to stop the concurrent U.N. Human Rights Council's investigation of exactly the same flotilla incident. In June the Council launched an allegedly "independent international fact-finding mission" with a mandate to report on what it had already decided was Israel's "outrageous attack." Rice disingenuously claimed today that "The United States expects that the Panel['s] will be the primary method for the international community to review the incident, obviating the need for any overlapping international inquiries."

The secretary-general's announcement says nothing of the kind and she knows full well that the secretary has no power to stop the Council from proceeding, since it is run by states and not the bureaucracy.

Rice also said that the secretary general's inquiry "will receive and review the reports" of Israeli and Turkish national investigations. For all intents and purposes, therefore, the Israeli investigation has been rendered irrelevant. The international figures who took risks by agreeing to participate on the Israeli inquiry could hardly be blamed for believing they have been double-crossed.

The details of the Ban investigation, including its mandate, have yet to be ironed out. But Ban's announcement sets a mid-September deadline for an interim report, obviously intending to minimize any further Israeli negotiating room. Regardless of whatever piece of paper materializes, in practice Israel will not be able to retain control over the scope of the inquiry, or who might be forced to testify, or what information will need to be submitted to satisfy the U.N.

There will be four members of the inquiry including a Turkish and Israeli representative. Should the Turkish member or any of the others at any time believe that they want something that Israel has not provided, or that their mandate is insufficient, all they need to do is to threaten to go public. At that point, either the inquiry will be diminished in U.N. eyes, giving further impetus to actions by the Human Rights Council and the General Assembly, or Israel will immediately come under further U.S. pressure to make even more concessions.

Netanyahu apparently believes that falling on the sword erected by the Obama administration and his U.N. cohorts will buy him American goodwill. But this legal and political battle over what counts as legitimate self-defense needs to be fought like any other real war -- to win. Removing the fundamentals of self-defense from Israeli hands is at odds with the very raison d'être of the Jewish state. This was one demand of a hostile American administration too many.