Editorial: In the Mideast: Some Almost Good News

To paraphrase a lyric of a pop song of a few years back, we “sure could use some good news” to balance so much bad and even terrible news coming out of the Middle East in recent days.  

The “Arab Spring” seems to be morphing into an “Israeli Winter” with last weekend’s attack on the Israeli Embassy in Cairo the harshest incident yet in the deteriorating relations between Israel and Egypt since the ousting of former President Hosni Mubarak.  

Add to this the vote upcoming next week at the United Nations when the Palestinians seek to gain recognition as an independent state by doing an “end run” around the peace process, and the worsening rupture in the once productive relationship between Israel and Turkey over the 2010 Gaza Flotilla affair.

There was, however, some “almost good” news as a sidebar to the Israel-Turkey breakdown.   The Secretary General of the United Nations appointed a commission, chaired by well-respected former New Zealand Prime Minister Geoffrey Parker, to look  into the 2010 incident aboard the Turkish ship Mavi Marmara, which carried a group of self-described “peace activists” (though among them a number of terrorism-supporting thugs), who were attempting to run the Israeli blockade and  deliver a shipload of supplies to the Gaza Strip.  

When Israeli commandos boarded in an attempt to enforce its maritime rights, ensure no unlawful weaponry was aboard and guide the ship into safe waters, they were attacked by a group on board with metal clubs, knives and guns.  The Israeli troops subsequently fired on the attackers. In the ensuing melee, nine Turks, including one with dual U.S.- Turkish citizenship, were killed.  

In fact, according to an article by Ethan Bronner in the New York Times, there was no shortage of  any food or other essential  items in the Gaza Strip, and the Gaza   Flotilla overall appeared to be a publicity stunt designed to either embarrass Israel or provoke it into “overreacting with excessive force.”

Given that the charge for the Palmer Commission came from the Secretary General’s office and not from the dread U.N. Human Rights Council like the absurdly biased Goldstone Report on the Gaza War of 2008-2009, there was hope that the result might be markedly different than that earlier smear job. The Goldstone Commission was chaired by former South African Judge Richard Goldstone, who himself has backed away from its findings. And in fact, Israel participated in the investigation this time, unlike in the previous instance, since the UNHRC is known for being dominated by anti-Israel sympathist nations.

So it was not altogether surprising that the Palmer Commission Report made it clear that Israel was within its rights to impose a sea blockade on Gaza. However, there was also a finding that the commandos had used “excessive force” when they responded to the  attackers on board.  Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has repeatedly expressed official   “regret at the loss of life,” but has rejected Turkish Prime Minister Recip Erdogan’s demand for an apology.  (Erdogan would do well to admit that the flotilla, rife with terrorists, shouldn’t have been sailing under Turkish flag in the first place, but like many things we wish for, that won’t happen.) Erdogan seized upon Israel’s refusal to apologize to recall the Turkish ambassador to Israel and to downgrade the status of Israel’s Embassy in Ankara to an Interests Section.

While a finding of  “excessive force” is hardly reassuring given that the Israeli commandos were essentially walking into a setup (which raises separate questions about whether the Israeli side used best practices in assessing and responding to the threat, which has been written about quite a bit), it’s not an unusual finding-we see it commonly even in police brutality cases in the United States.

What is pretty interesting, however, is the amount of anti-Israel jabber on the internet that’s being directed at the Palmer Report, a result that appears almost a 180-degree shift from that camp’s reaction to Goldstone.To wit: Electronicintifada.net carries a piece describing the report as “A Subtle Form of Whitewash;” Palestinechronicle.com describes Palmer’s “fatal flaws;” and Hamas sources were quoted in the Jerusalem Post as calling the report the  “result of American and Israeli pressure” brought to bear on the U.N.

When you contrast the even-handed Palmer approach (even if you don’t agree with its conclusions, it didn’t seem to be handcuffed by a pre-ordained bias) with the  odious Goldstone Commission charge and findings, which saddled Israel with possible “war crimes,” it sure is hard to conceive of it as a “whitewash.” But that rhetoric only points to the repeated efforts of the anti-Israel and BDS (boycott, divestment, sanctions) movements to alter reality to fit their destructive aims.

In the Sea of Troubles for Israel that the once-promising Arab  Spring has been churning up in recent days, the Palmer Report is a  small island of attempted fairness and  reason.  As we approach the Jewish New Year 5772 and the anticipated U.N. vote  on Palestinian statehood (which the Obama administration, to its  credit, has promised to veto in the Security Council), let us hope  that Israel’s future turns not on the vitriol of vengeful vigilantes, but on the calm and sensible perspective of nations that appreciate the need for true democratic principles.