The Palmer Report

    The Palmer report is finally out after weeks of delay allowing the Israelis to reach an agreement with the Turks, who insisted that Israel apologizes for the killing of their civilians in the Flotilla in 2010 and compensates the families financially.

    Unlike previous reports such as the Goldstone report, the Palmer report was conducted under the sponsorship of the UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon, rather than the Human Rights Council, which has been accused by Israel, the US and even Goldstone himself amongst others of bias against Israel. This very important fact enabled Israel to cooperate fully rather than to confiscate it under the claim that it has no mandate.

    The report itself is a 105 pages document, which bases its findings on the two independent investigations done by Turkey and Israel, as well as examining independent evidence. As expected the two investigations varied significantly on some fundamental points. For example the Turkish government claims that the blockade on Gaza is illegal, because it does not follow the naval agreement protocol as well as, the fact that Gaza does not qualify as an international conflict. The Israelis on the other hand, claim that it is an international conflict between two governments and that it has followed the correct protocol in enforcing the blockade.

    Other points of dispute are: the validity of Israel to board the ships in order to stop them, whether this was a humanitarian mission or publicity stunt as well as whether the ships changed their course to Egypt after the Israeli navy warnings. Both reports included their interpretation of the events and one could see that both reports were written with an agenda.

    Israel in general should be quite pleased with the report, as it clearly determines that the blockade over Gaza is a defence measure and therefore legal. The report also examines the timelines and events and determines that there is no reason to believe that the naval blockade is tied together with the land restriction of transferring goods and furthermore, does not appear to be a collective punishment measure, as it corresponds with security events, rather than political moves. Basing their facts on communication prior to the boats leaving and throughout the journey, the report determines that there is no reason to believe that publicity was not a main goal of IHH and accordingly that the boats did or would change their destination to Egypt.

    Turkey on the other hand did not come off the report lightly. The report did recognize that the government advised the IHH people not to risk themselves by travelling to Gaza and trying to break the blockade, however the report found that they did not do enough to stop them.

    While it was determined that Israel had the right to defend the blockade, Israel was criticized harshly for the planning of the operation. One of the main points was Israel’s failure to reassess the situation after the military’s speed boats sailing alongside the Mavi Marmara were attacked by projectiles. The panel examining the facts believed that more could have been done to stop the ship from continuing prior to boarding it with soldiers. The other main criticism was that once the soldiers were on board there was excess violence used., since some of the dead were injured from shots from close range as well as in their back.

    The conclusion of the report is that this encounter should have never happened in the first place. It blamed the IHH of being reckless in trying to break the blockade as well as for organized violence and intentions of publicity rather than practicality of supplying aid into Gaza. For example the report argued that the Mavi Marmara was too big for the Gaza port, which meant that had it reached Gaza, the goods would have had to be offloaded onto smaller boats out at sea, this would be much less practical than delivering the goods by land via Egypt. Another conclusion was that Israel did use excess force and should therefore express regret and pay financial compensation to the families of the dead.

    While this report is probably the least damning report about Israel to come out of the UN in the last 30 years, there is still a sense amongst Israelis that it was watered down, in order not to vilify Turkey as well as leave an opening for a Turkish-Israeli reconciliation. For example the report does not recognize that during battle there is always room for errors and uncertainty, which does not fall under anyone’s responsibility, nor did they consider that some of the dead were shot in the back or from close range as a result of the intense combat. It is not unreasonable to believe that one soldier seeing a fellow soldier attacked and in danger next to him, would shoot the attackers to prevent harm to the soldier, this shot is more likely to be to the back rather than the front and it is not any less valid or necessary if it is taken from close range.

    However despite the watering down that may or may have not been applied, the report had not managed to make things better between Turkey and Israel. The Israeli government after long considerations of the impact of a cold relationship with Turkey, decided not to apologize to the Turkish government and not to compensate the families of the dead. Israel did, express regret about the deaths, but was adamant about its right to protect itself and enforce the blockade. Furthermore, the report was only due to come out on the 2nd of September, however, it was leaked to the media a day earlier and as a result Turkey has called a press conference, in which it accused Israel of leaking the report and declared a list of measures it would take against Israel. Some of these measures include downgrading the diplomatic relationship between the countries, stopping the military cooperation, supporting the Palestinian state vote in the UN and aiding Turkish citizens wishing to sue Israel in the international court of law. It must be said that most of these actions, while not official, were already happening in practice since the Flotilla in 2010.

    Interestingly, despite the report being produced by the UN, Turkey’s Foreign Minister Davutoglu has already said that he does not recognize the report’s conclusions as valid. These statements, while harsh, are probably a comforting point to Israel, since it seems that Turkey is not being reasonable and had Israel apologized as requested, it would have made little difference to the already deteriorating relationship. It will also be interesting to see the choices Turkey makes, as it seems like its position in the Middle East is quickly being compromised with Syria’s regime being toppled, shortly after tightening their relationship, the Kurdish community carrying out more daring operations and as a result reprisals from the Turkish army killing hundreds drawing some criticism and Iran suffering economic difficulties, as China is slowly moving to the US’s side and reducing its trade with it.


There are no mates in this stalemate

    Israel’s right wing government has taken a lot of beating in the mainstream Western media, including in Israel itself.

    One of the main reasons for that is Avigdor Lieberman and his party “Israel beyteynu”, which in the last elections won 15 percent of the votes, which put it as the third largest party in Israel, ahead even of the traditional Labour party, whose votes mostly went to the centrist party Kadima.

    Avigdor Lieberman’s typical voter profile is Eastern European immigrants to Israel that have a right wing propensity. In accordance with many of his voters, Lieberman, who heads his party, has a direct attitude, which does not go down well in the media when he promotes policies such as citizenship only for people who declare loyalty to Israel (which was never passed in parliament), insists on no more removing settlements as gestures of good will (in fact the opposite, keep building until this is addressed in a peace negotiation) or accuses the UN and Western world of double standard in regards to Israel.

    While some Israelis see Lieberman as a politician unwilling to compromise for self benefit and in touch with the sombre reality, many of the leftist/centrist Israelis are dreading two possible scenarios because of Lieberman’s hardline. In the short-term scenario, there is fear of further isolation of Israel in the global arena, as some media is looking to create a narrative, in which, Israel is a country that is slowly turning into the same regime its people fled from in the last century and Lieberman fits the bill as a catalyst. The second long term scenario is that progress would be made in the peace negotiations and when the time would come for Israel to take a brave step and commit to a risky and unpopular move, Lieberman would have enough power to veto it and a rare opportunity for peace would be missed.

    All criticisms of Lieberman are justified, as he is a dark horse in Israeli politics and after the last elections he is in a position to tilt the balance and cause Netanyahu’s government to crash, which puts him in the heart of it all and justifies the media attention and demand for accountability as the Foreign Minister.

    However the mainstream media fails to juxtapose Lieberman’s positions with those from the Palestinian side, who are not less powerful, namely Hamas, in order to give the reporting a balance.

    It wouldn’t be wrong to claim that the media’s treatment of Hamas has been on the softer side. Some commentators downplay the significance of Hamas’ refusal to recognize Israel’s right to exist, while others portray a picture as if this refusal isn’t an obstacle to peace, basing this claim on ambiguous and slightly more moderate remarks from Hamas to the Western media (most notable one by Khaled Suleiman in 2006). However, every remark is often followed by the restatement of Hamas’ official stance by its leaders, which is to never recognize Israel’s right to exist and the fact that in practice, Hamas has not even gone as far as modifying its charter, which calls for the occupation of the entire land of Israel and killing of all Jews. The same message is also embedded in the education system and media in Gaza.

    The media also doesn’t address much of the internal politics of Hamas. On the one hand, Hamas has been a far better party than Fatah in regards to its own people. Unlike Fatah, who allegedly used a big amount of Palestinian aid money to fund a lavish lifestyle for their families outside of Palestine and were embroiled in all sorts of corruption cases, Hamas is not known to be involved with any major corruption. Moreover, it is known to give social care and support to the people of Gaza. However on the other hand, Hamas has been ruthless with the Fatah party members, injuring and killing them (mostly as reprisals for the treatment of Hamas members in the West Bank). Hamas have also been forcing some aspects of Islamic law, which involves suppressing women, gays, Christians, personal freedom and freedom of speech. Not to mention the complete lack of investment in infrastructure, while building up and developing an arsenal of weapons against Israel. To add to this list, their actions around their relationship with smaller militant groups and their own armed forces which have contributed to Israel’s naval and land blockade of Gaza as well as the civilian casualties, which are a result of conducting combat from civilian areas.

    The next few months leading up to September, when apparently an application to the UN for recognition of Palestine as a country would be made by Abbas and his government, I predict a media battle. Israel on the one hand will try to show the fragility and impracticality of the Hamas-Fatah agreement and how it is the main contributor to the peace negotiations collapse, while on the other hand the Palestinians will continue to claim their right to their own state, by delegitimizing Israel’s existence and highlighting the stalemate of the negotiations, because of Israel’s unwillingness to withdraw its settlements to the 1967 borders.