Even the UN report says that Israel had no need to apologise

By Emanuele Ottolenghi, September 8, 2011
Produced the report: Geoffrey Palmer

Produced the report: Geoffrey Palmer

The Palmer Report was ready for release in July. However, it was delayed two months in a failed attempt to facilitate reconciliation between Jerusalem and Ankara. Since its release last Friday, Western commentators have, almost without exception, lamented Israel's refusal to apologise and blamed Israel for this failure, given that, among its conclusions, the report chastises Israel for the use of excessive force and dwells on the operational mistakes of Israel's takeover of the Mavi Marmara.

In this, they omit important details of the Israeli-Turkish dispute and distort the overall content of the report.

Turkey insisted not only that Israel should apologise for the deaths of nine of its citizens on board the Mavi Marmara ship, and that Israel should pay compensation; Ankara also demanded that Israel lift the Gaza blockade. In other words, Ankara set the bar too high for Israel to agree under honourable terms. And yet, aside from criticism for the operational mistakes of Israel's military operation, the report comes down on Israel's side.

The report recognises that an on-going state of war exists between Israel and Hamas; that Israel has a right to self-defence in this context; that the blockade is a legitimate instrument to meet Israel's security requirements; that therefore Israel's blockade is legal; and that Israel needs not apologise but should express regret for the loss of life and offer to pay compensation.

Israel agreed to these last two conditions (and has already voiced regret more than once for the loss of life), but refused to do go beyond the report's recommendations. Furthermore, the report sharply criticises Ankara for its role in the flotilla incident.

The reason for the delay in the report's release, then, was that Ankara, aware of the report's conclusions and the negative light it casts on Turkey's behaviour and motives, was hoping to humiliate Israel and force Jerusalem into full submission before the report went public.

Predictably, Turkey rejected the report - had it accepted, it would have to drop its absurd demands, since the report vindicates Israel's policy, and de-escalates their tensions.

Instead, it chose to up the ante and jeopardise a decades-old strategic alliance at a time of regional turmoil.

The UN, for a change, provided Israel with a strong legal defence of its actions and policies in Gaza and served as a powerful rebuke of Turkey's political recklessness. Turkey's response shows that its leaders, much like the crumbling Arab order, think that Israel-hatred is a great way to enhance their popularity. They may be right - but popularity is no substitute for policy and, in the end, Turkey will have to accept the report's conclusions and recognise Israel's legitimate security concerns in Gaza.

Emanuele Ottolenghi is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defence of Democracies in Washington

Last updated: 12:26pm, September 8 2011