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Talk Abo​ut Timing

August 5, 2010
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Forgive us for being a tad skeptical that a United Nations panel could impartially investigate the now notorious flotilla affair without impugning Israel as the culprit.

Given recent history, it's hard not to compute "U.N." plus "inquiry" without arriving at Goldstone, the outrageously one-sided excoriation of Israel's actions during the 2008 Gaza war.

The U.N. inquiry, announced this week, will be led by a former prime minister of New Zealand, Geoffrey Palmer, and will include a Turkish and an Israeli representative yet to be named.

Israel's decision to cooperate with the U.N. probe comes after months of resisting calls for an international inquiry. It also comes after already launching two of its own investigations into the May 31 incident, in which nine Turks were killed when Israeli commandos tried to board the Mavi Marmara, part of a flotilla of ships sailing for Gaza in an effort to break Israel's blockade.

This marks the first time that Israel will be part of a U.N. committee looking into Israeli actions, a development U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon hailed as "unprecedented."

The real mandate of the panel is already a bit murky. That ambiguity could itself be a pitfall. If one purpose, as is being suggested, is to prevent a recurrence of an incident like the one on May 31, then something useful could come out of all this. But Turkey's actions must be scrutinized, especially its support for the radical group that organized the renegade ship that provoked the raid and responded to the Israelis with violence.

If, too, Israel and Turkey can use this panel to help pull the countries back from the brink of their disintegrating relations, then it may accomplish something. Turkey, which is increasingly moving away from its connections with Israel and the West, had threatened to sever diplomatic ties with the Jewish state unless Israel agreed to an international probe or apologized for the deaths.

But these are all big "if's." Israel has calculated, due in part to pressure from the Obama administration, that it is strategically better to cooperate than to risk another Goldstone. We can only hope that the panel does not end up prolonging attention on the flotilla incident at the expense of the real problem -- the Palestinians' unwillingness to even sit down with Israel.

It's ironic that the announcement on the flotilla panel came the same week that Hamas launched a new round of rocket attacks against Israeli cities, prompting an Israeli reprisal raid and, potentially, a new cycle of violence.

The timing of the Hamas attacks, in contrast, were no coincidence. They came like clockwork, amid the slightest hint of renewed talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, which itself has foolishly resisted such talks for far too long. But that is the Hamas way, yet another reminder of the rejectionism and violence that has thwarted Israel's quest for peace.

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