Has the U.S. lost its ability to shield Israel at the U.N.?
Two weeks ago, it looked like the United States had once against prevailed in its effort to block the establishment of an outside investigation into Israel’s actions against Palestinian militants, as U.S. diplomats at the United Nations successfully gutted a Turkish proposal to set up an international probe into the deadly Israel commando raid on ...
Two weeks ago, it looked like the United States had once against prevailed in its effort to block the establishment of an outside investigation into Israel's actions against Palestinian militants, as U.S. diplomats at the United Nations successfully gutted a Turkish proposal to set up an international probe into the deadly Israel commando raid on an aid flotilla.
Two weeks ago, it looked like the United States had once against prevailed in its effort to block the establishment of an outside investigation into Israel’s actions against Palestinian militants, as U.S. diplomats at the United Nations successfully gutted a Turkish proposal to set up an international probe into the deadly Israel commando raid on an aid flotilla.
But the effort faced an unexpected challenge from U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who has traditionally deferred to Washington on Middle East matters. Early this week, Ban made clear that an Israeli-run investigation was not enough and that he will persist in his efforts to establish an international panel in the face of American and Israeli resistance. Ban’s "proposal for an international inquiry remains on the table and he hopes for a positive Israeli response," said Ban’s spokesman Farhan Haq on Monday.
The United States has privately urged Ban and others to allow the Israeli probe to be given a chance to demonstrate its credibility. But Washington has not used its position within the Security Council to block Ban’s effort, according to U.N. diplomats. "We know for a fact that that there is no objection in the Security Council to the efforts of the secretary-general," Ryad Mansour, the Palestinian representative to the United Nations, told reporters on Tuesday.
Ban’s demand for a probe contrasts with his previous response to calls for an international investigation into Israel’s conduct during its military campaign in Gaza. In that case, Ban deferred to the Human Rights Council, which appointed South African lawyer Richard Goldstone to probe Israeli and Palestinian conduct, and then resisted demands from the Palestinians backers to follow up on the Goldstone’s controversial findings. At the time, the U.N.’s principal powers, including the United States, China, Russia, and the Europeans, were also reluctant to pursue war crimes investigations against Israel.
But this time around there is broad support for a U.N. probe into the flotilla raid. Turkey Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu traveled to New York immediately after the flotilla raid to press the Security Council to condemn Israel and set up an international inquiry. After several hours of negotiations, the U.S. prevailed in watering down the final resolution, which simply calls for a credible, impartial probe. After the vote, U.S. and Israelis officials contended that Israel was in a position to conduct such an investigation on its own. On June 6, Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu rejected Ban’s proposal to have a former New Zealand prime minister, Geoffrey Palmer, lead an investigation into the flotilla raid. Instead, Israel late last week proposed its own investigation, with the participation of two international observers from Ireland and Canada.
But the issued has not died. On Tuesday, Turkey’s U.N. ambassador Ertugal Apakan made an impassioned plea that the "only reasonable way forward" was to back Ban’s call for an international investigation, according to a council member. "Turkey is pushing very hard," the council diplomat said. "Erdogan is under big pressure domestically to promote an independent, international investigation." The council diplomat said that "a vast majority" of council members would be willing to support Ban’s call for an international probe. "If the Americans give in, I think everybody else would agree to that."
So far, the U.S. has not shown its cards. Alejandro Wolff, the second-highest ranking U.S. ambassador at the U.N., told the Security Council Tuesday that the U.S. believes that Israel should be given an opportunity to prove that it can conduct a credible investigation, according to council diplomats. He said that Israel’s findings should be made public and for consideration by the international community. But he did not comment on Ban’s proposal to press ahead with an investigation.
As for Ban’s next step, the U.N. chief "thinks a thorough Israeli national investigation can be important but he believes it is not incompatible with what he has been proposing: which is an international panel to look into … what happened," Robert Serry, the U.N. special envoy for the Middle East peace process, told reporters.
Follow me on Twitter @columlynch.
Colum Lynch was a staff writer at Foreign Policy between 2010 and 2022. Twitter: @columlynch
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