UNITED NATIONS - If, as expected, the U.N. Security Council remains politically impotent and refuses to penalise Israel for the killings of nine pro-Palestinian civilians on a ship carrying humanitarian aid to Gaza, what is the next course of action?
A global civil society campaign to de-legitimise Israel? Formal or informal sanctions by individual states? Worldwide arrest warrants?
All of these - and more - are in the realm of possibility, say two leading constitutional experts, Professor Richard Falk, U.N. Special Rapporteur on Occupied Palestinian Territories, and Michael Ratner, president of the New York- based Centre for Constitutional Rights.
The gridlock in the Security Council is likely to remind civil society forces that justice for the Palestinians will depend on bottom-up conflict resolution, and a global delegitimising campaign that worked so well in the struggle to defeat South African racism, Falk told IPS.
Asked how Israel could be punished and/or penalised for its atrocities - if action is to be taken outside the Security Council chambers - Falk said there are two sets of punitive responses outside of the U.N. system.
First, by strong diplomatic initiatives, as for instance, the deterioration of Israeli trade and security relations with Turkey, and others; and by some governments adopting informal or formal sanctions - again the South Africa analogy is relevant, he said.
Secondly, by civil society initiatives that move toward further de-legitimisation of Israel, such as a citizen tribunal on Israeli aggression on the high seas or slow genocide in Gaza; an intensifying campaign fueled by outrage, including the failure of the United Nations to uphold international law in relation to Israel, said Falk, who is also professor emeritus of international law at Princeton University.
Ratner told IPS the murdered and injured citizens from various countries can and should begin criminal prosecutions in their home countries against Israeli officials who ordered this attack in international waters.
"Worldwide arrest warrants should issue. Israeli officials should understand that they may have impunity in Israel, but that they leave Israel at their peril," he said.
The Israeli attack on the flotilla of ships carrying humanitarian aid, which resulted in the killings of eight Turkish nationals, has provoked anger and protests worldwide.
According to news reports, there were more than 600 civilians from 32 countries on board the six ships which flew the flags of Turkey, Greece and Comoros.
But after a 12-hour session Monday, the Security Council issued a tame "presidential statement" condemning what has been described by critics as "high seas piracy and banditry".
The United States, which has traditionally thrown a protective arm around Israel - whether the Jewish state is right or wrong - was primarily responsible for "watering down" the statement and refusing to adopt a formal resolution against Israel.
Secure under a protective U.S. umbrella, Israel is unlikely to be singled out for condemnation or even subjected to Security Council sanctions or resolutions.
"Yes, it is likely that Israel will continue to enjoy de facto impunity as a result of Euro-American geopolitical protection," Falk told IPS.
But he predicted that European support for Israel is likely to be under strain "after such a flagrant disregard of international law and such a cruel and arbitrary use of force".
Ratner told IPS that "at some point - [and] we may be reaching that point - the anger at Israel by Muslim populations of countries like Turkey and Pakistan, and by extension their anger at the U.S., UK. and France for their continued support in the Security Council for Israeli lawlessness, may force a change."
This is not because those countries care a whit about Palestinians, he said, but because their security depends on not alienating millions in an area they deem crucial to their economic and physical security.
"So I have not given up hope for increased pressure on Israel from the Security Council," he said.
The Security Council's failure to condemn this attack is also part of its failure to act on prior occasions when Israel has violated international law, such as in Gaza, said Ratner. At a minimum, the Security Council should refer this matter to the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague, he added.
"The Security Council overlooking lawlessness in the past has led to more lawlessness in the future. It has given Israel impunity to carry out horrendous human rights violations," he noted.
As the Security Council, controlled on this issue by the U.S., the UK and France, protects Israel, "We are seeing the emergence of a remarkable phenomenon: militant activism by thousands from all over the world taking action that is the best hope for forcing a change that could end the blockade, end the settlements and has the potential to bring peace," he said.
Addressing parliament Wednesday, a visibly angry Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said that, "Even despots, gangsters and pirates have specific sensitiveness, (and) follow some specific morals."
"But those who do not follow any morality or ethics, those who do not act with any sensitivity, to call them such names would even be a compliment to them," he said.
"This brazen, irresponsible, reckless (Israeli) government that recognises no law and tramples on any kind of humanitarian virtue, this attack by the Israeli government must by all means be punished," he added.
Referring to the Israeli version of the attack, Erdogan said the government in Tel Aviv, "has made lying its state policy and does not blush about the crime it commits".
Instead of expecting the Israelis to open an investigation, "the international community must investigate this incident in all its dimensions and must give the legal response", he added.