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UN Chief Dilly-Dallying on Panel to Probe Israeli Killings?

by Thalif Deen

UNITED NATIONS - When the Security Council condemned the killings by Israeli military forces of nine Turkish civilians on a flotilla of ships carrying humanitarian aid to Gaza last May, it also released a presidential statement "taking note" of Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon's proposal for an international investigation of the incident.

Pro-Palestinian activists gather around an Israeli commando on board the Gaza-bound Turkish ship Mavi Marmara in the international waters of Mediterranean sea early May 31, 2010. (REUTERS/Adem Ozkose/Gercek Hayat Magazine via IHH/Handout) But nearly two months later there are no signs of the proposed "prompt, impartial, credible and transparent investigation."

After an earlier devastating three-week Israeli military offensive against Gaza in late 2008 - which left more than 1,400 people dead and over 5,000 injured - the Human Rights Council in Geneva appointed a three member fact- finding mission, led by Judge Richard Goldstone.

That panel submitted a blistering report accusing both Israel and Hamas of committing war crimes.

Norman Finkelstein, a scholar and political scientist, told IPS that after publication of the Goldstone report, Israeli leaders complained that the report was making it difficult for Israel to launch another war.

"Unfortunately, Ban Ki-moon did not implement the recommendations of the Goldstone report [to pursue war crimes charges], but instead has prolonged the proceedings," he added. "Now he is procrastinating on the formation of a committee to investigate Israeli crimes on the Mavi Marmara [the Turkish ship attacked by Israeli military forces]."

The outcome is easily foreseeable, said Finkelstein, author of several books, including ‘This Time We Went Too Far: Truth and Consequences of the Gaza Invasion'.

Israel is now preparing for an attack on Lebanon, he warned. "It will be an assault next to which previous ones pale by comparison. And it is because Ban Ki-moon has been delinquent in his responsibilities that Israel will be able to launch this monstrous attack," he predicted.

When the death and destruction come in Lebanon, Ban should be held culpable, said Finkelstein.

"The secretary-general is obviously under pressure from the United States and other Western states not to conduct an international probe unless he has the concurrence of Israel," says one diplomatic source.

"If the Israelis do agree," he told IPS, "which I very much doubt, it will be a watered down investigation, not a ‘full investigation' the Security Council agreed on."

Last month an Israeli-appointed self-investigating panel absolved the military forces of any criminality in the flotilla attack.

Richard Falk, professor of international law emeritus at Princeton University, told IPS: "It seems abundantly clear the Government of Israel is hostile to international criticisms, or to any effort to assess contested Israeli behavior by way of a U.N. initiative."

Falk said Israel refused to cooperate with the Goldstone fact-finding mission, and then defamed Goldstone and repudiated the report once released - despite scrupulous efforts to produce a balanced assessment of alleged violations of humanitarian law by both Israelis and Palestinians.

"The failure so far by Ban Ki Moon to appoint forthwith such an investigative panel contrasts with the response to a similar call in relation to investigate allegations of Sri Lanka's criminality in suppressing the Tamil insurgency," said Falk, currently U.N. special rapporteur for the Occupied Palestinian Territories.

"It should be obvious that only an international panel has any prospect of achieving a comprehensive, objective, and credible assessment of the flotilla incident, which directly involves a highly contested use of Israeli state power to attack a humanitarian mission on international waters," he added.

Asked if the secretary-general is still awaiting "permission" from Israel before naming the panel of inquiry, U.N. spokesperson Martin Nesirky told reporters Monday that Ban is very actively pursuing his proposal. "As you know, he has met [Israeli] Prime Minister [Benjamin] Netanyahu and has spoken to him on the telephone."

He has also spoken to the Foreign Minister of Turkey, [Ahmet] Davutoglu, about this matter.

"So he is pursuing this very vigorously, and clearly, he does want to push ahead with it. But, as we've also mentioned on a number of occasions, you do need those key elements in place before you can actually make it happen," said Nesirky.

Asked who is responsible for the foot-dragging, Turkey or Israel, he said: "Look, it's not a question of foot dragging; it is a question of making sure that everybody is on the same page, to mix a metaphor."

"It's not for me to characterize the positions of other countries, or of member states; they can do that themselves," Nesirky said. "All I would say is that the secretary-general is in frequent contact with the parties concerned, and would hope to have a positive response so that he can then push ahead with this commission sooner rather than later."

Naseer H. Aruri, chancellor professor (Emeritus) at the University of Massachusetts in Dartmouth, told IPS the proposed international commission "may never see the light of day if recent experience is to prove valid".

In October last year, Israel, the U.S. and western allies succeeded in "postponing" indefinitely the referral of the Goldstone report on the Israeli onslaught on Gaza to the U.N. Human Rights Council for discussion, he said.

The Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported that, behind the scenes, Palestinian officials had faced threats that Israel would retaliate by inflicting enormous damage on the beleaguered Palestinian economy.

The same accusations would have been launched against the Palestinian Authority had it not agreed to postpone the discussion of the Goldstone report in the U.N. Human Rights Council.

The flagrant violations of international law by Israel's armed forces against civilians resulted in similar policy responses from U.S. Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama. "Both excused Israel, shielded Israel from international scrutiny, and permitted Israel to once again get away with impunity," said Aruri.

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