What a coup for UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon! Israel just agreed it will cooperate with a UN-backed international investigation into its lethal May 31 raid on the Mavi Marmara, the ship attempting to break the siege of Gaza. Nine Turkish nationals, one of them also a U.S. citizen, were killed by Israeli commandos who attacked the ship from assault helicopters and naval speedboats.
It should be a big deal, right? Ban called it "an unprecedented development." Commentary bloggers raged that it would be an "atrocious precedent." After all, Israel has never accepted UN or international investigations of its human rights violations before – look how it rejected and condemned the UN’s Goldstone Report documenting possible war crimes during the 2008-09 attack on Gaza. Look at their 2008 refusal to allow the UN’s Special Rapporteur for Human Rights in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, Professor Richard Falk, to enter the West Bank to carry out his mandate – instead arresting him at Tel Aviv airport, tossing him into a dirty prison cell overnight and deporting him the next day. Look at Israel’s refusal to allow Archbishop Desmond Tutu into Gaza to help conduct an international investigation.
Look at the one time Israel pretended to agree to cooperate with a UN investigation team, in 2002 when the UN was set to examine the killing of civilians in the Jenin refugee camp during Israel’s "re-occupation" of the West Bank. That time Israel agreed to accept the team, only to demand more and more concessions, finally reneging on its promise and rejecting the investigation altogether, leaving UN Secretary General Kofi Annan to shamefacedly disband the team, then cooling their heels in Geneva, and send them home.
So this may well be "unprecedented." But don’t get too excited yet. This particular "international" and "UN-backed" team actually reflects Israel’s own US-backed influence at the UN. Former New Zealand Prime Minister Geoffrey Palmer is known primarily for his work on the International Whaling Commission. And Colombian President Uribe, Washington’s closest ally and most loyal military dependent in all of Latin America, is hardly likely to challenge his patron’s closest ally and military partner in the Middle East. Human rights, in Uribe’s Colombia? Don’t get me started. It was Uribe’s own foreign minister, on a visit to Israel a few months ago, who told the Jerusalem Post of his desire "to strengthen Colombia’s military relationship with Israel as well as trade ties, and develop what he termed ‘joint ventures on innovation, entrepreneurship and venture capital.’" The JPost also noted that "some of the arms that Colombia uses in its battle against the rebels were purchased from Israel, including Kfir aircraft, drones, weapons and intelligence systems."
It doesn’t bode well for real accountability. A four-person team with one chosen by Israel, and two others approved (if not chosen by) Israel, plus one chosen by Turkey hardly sounds like truly international – let alone UN – representation. It may serve as a good precedent for a future in which Israel really might be held accountable for its violations of international law. A good precedent, maybe, (sorry, Commentary…that "atrocious" precedent is actually the only useful part of the deal) but this first time isn’t likely to go very far.