When Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu assented last week to Israeli participation in a United Nations panel investigating the May 31 Gaza flotilla incident, he said that his country had “nothing to hide” and that he had been assured that the group would only review the results of previous investigations — including Israel’s — and that it would not conduct its own inquiry. But at the same time that Netanyahu spoke as though he had gotten the better of his country’s foes at the world body, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon gave a mandate to the panel that was vague enough to also convince Turkey — whose goal at this point is to brand Israel as the criminal in the affair — that the UN effort serves its interests as well.
Unsurprisingly, one week later, it appears as though the Turks had better cause to be pleased by the UN than does Israel. At a news conference yesterday in New York, the AP reports that Ban denied that the UN panel would refrain from calling its own witnesses about the incident, including Israeli army soldiers who had taken part in the seizure of the Turkish ships that sought to break the blockade of Hamas-run Gaza. Israeli officials had previously said that their participation had been conditional on the promise that their soldiers would not be hauled in front of a UN star chamber. In response to Ban’s backtracking on that promise, Netanyahu’s office issued a statement saying that “Israel will not cooperate with and will not take part in any panel that seeks to interrogate Israeli soldiers.”
This was bravely said, but if Netanyahu believes that an Israeli pullout from the panel will not be portrayed as a sign of guilt in the court of international opinion, he’s wrong. Having already promised to play along with the UN, it won’t matter that Ban or the Obama administration (which is widely assumed to have pushed hard for Israel’s participation in the UN inquiry) had made assurances that won’t be upheld.
Granted, sticking to its initial inclination to boycott a UN investigation wouldn’t have won Israel any popularity points either. The distorted coverage of the incident, in which violent activists were killed and whose goal was to assist the Islamist terrorists who run Gaza in gaining free access to arms and material, makes unlikely any impartial query by the UN. No amount of reporting about the fact that there is no shortage of food or medicine appears capable of correcting the false impression that such a humanitarian crisis exists or that those killed were innocent human-rights advocates.
But to pull out of a UN investigation after initially agreeing to participate looks and feels a lot worse than a principled refusal to have anything to do with a body whose record on human rights had consistently proved biased against Israel. Indeed, the most surprising thing about any of this is how a man with as much experience in dealing with the UN as Netanyahu could possibly be surprised by Ban’s reneging on private promises made to Israel. The result is another propaganda win for Turkey, whose own role in fomenting this crisis and then resolutely refusing to defuse it before any shots had to be fired was detailed in Netanyahu’s own testimony before an Israeli panel investigating the incident.