Some Vindication of Israel at the UN Before the Ultimate Slap-in-the-Face
For a UN-sanctioned report, the much anticipated Palmer Report to the Secretary General, which describes last year’s flotilla incident between Israel and “activists” seeking to breach the Gaza Blockade, provides an uncharacteristic exoneration of Israeli policies. Perhaps it was the presence of Alvaro Uribe, the panel’s vice-chair and former president of Columbia, one of the few reliable U.S. and Israel allies remaining in South America, which was responsible for the surprising accuracy and tone. Or perhaps it was because, at least for once, the panel simply could not ignore the facts or international law, no matter how much Turkey stomped its feet in protest.
When ships left Turkey’s docks last May and insisted on attempting to breach Israel’s blockade of the Gaza Strip, it precipitated an early morning military raid in which the ship’s passengers fought Israeli soldiers and left nine civilians on-board dead. Naturally, much of the international community, including the UN Human Rights Committee, directed its outrage at Israel and called its blockade of Gaza and the flotilla interception illegal.
Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon then authorized an independent panel to examine the incident and its legality under international law. Although the report was originally scheduled for a mid-summer release, it was repeatedly delayed in hopes that Israeli and Turkish diplomats might be able to thaw their nations’ since frigid relations.
As those hopes faded recently, the report’s finding were finally released and included the following:
“Israel’s blockade was imposed as a legitimate security measure in order to prevent weapons from entering Gaza by sea and its implementation complied with the requirements of international law”
“Israel was entitled to take reasonable steps to prevent the influx of weapons into Gaza.”
“As required, the naval blockade was declared and notified,” and it “was proportionate in the circumstances.”
The report also questioned the motives of the flotilla participants, calling them “reckless” and noting that “[i]f the flotilla had been a purely humanitarian mission it is hard to see why so many passengers embarked and with what purpose” and “the humanitarian goods on board the vessels is questionable.” It also observed that media presence indicates that the flotilla may have been a publicity and propaganda stunt and that “extensive and genuine efforts were made by Israel to facilitate the delivery of humanitarian supplies from the flotilla to Gaza.”
Finally, the report conceded that international legal principles do not operate in a vacuum and it undermined the extremely dangerous notion advanced by some that the right of self defense only applies against State actors, which the Palestinian territories are not. Applying the “international armed conflict” regime to the conflict between Israel and Hamas has important implications for both Israel and U.S. security, given the need to rely upon self defense doctrines in combating non-State terrorist groups.
While the report did conclude that the manner in which Israeli soldiers intercepted the flotilla was “excessive and unreasonable,” which prompted strong disagreement from the Israeli on the panel, the Report’s findings provoked far more protest from the Turkish panel member.
The report’s vindication of Israeli policies at large and the legality of its blockade is an unquestionably positive development for the State of Israel. Of course, there is a particular irony in that, because later this month, the UN General Assembly is expected to deliver to Israel the ultimate slap-in-the-face: recognition of a Palestinian state. That resolution will have no legal weight, but it will be symbolic of the anti-Israel bias that has infected the UN for years. On this one occasion at least, that bias appears to have been in check.