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Israel, Turkey and the U.N.
The New York Times
3 August 2010

It took too long, but Israel made the right decision in saying it would cooperate with a United Nations-led investigation into its disastrous attack on a Gaza-bound aid ship. Only a transparent and credible inquiry has a chance of calming international outrage over the incident and beginning to repair fractured Israeli-Turkish ties.

Turkey is understandably furious about the death of eight Turks and one Turkish-American in the May 31 raid on a flotilla. Israel says its soldiers acted in self-defense and that the flotilla was organized by radical activists, supported by Turkey, bent on provoking an incident.

After resisting cooperation with the United Nations, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel showed good sense when he said Monday that Israel has nothing to hide and that it is in Israels national interest to ensure that the factual truth about the entire flotilla incident is revealed to the whole world. Turkey also welcomed the investigation and promised to cooperate.

This is a leap of faith for Israel, whose enemies have sometimes used the United Nations as an anti-Israel cudgel. The four-member panel will include Geoffrey Palmer, a former prime minister of New Zealand; the outgoing president of Colombia, lvaro Uribe; and an Israeli and a Turk, who must be of high caliber and committed to an honest outcome.

Unfortunately, it is not clear that the panels mandate is sufficiently broad enough to fulfill the Security Councils June 1 call for a prompt, impartial, credible and transparent investigation conforming to international standards.

A United Nations spokesman said the panel would make findings about the facts and circumstances and the context of the incident. But the United States ambassador, Susan Rice, described a narrower mandate receiving the conclusions of separate Israeli and Turkish investigations into the flotilla attack but focusing on preventing future incidents.

The panel will have no subpoena authority and is not empowered to do its own inquiry, although it can request additional data from Israeli and Turkish officials.

For six weeks after the flotilla incident, Israel and Turkey traded threats that played into the hands of extremists and came to the brink of severing ties. So it is a relief that they have cooled the rhetoric and looked for a way to put the incident behind them.

Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and the United States worked hard to negotiate the compromise agreement. They must work just as hard to ensure the investigation is not politicized and that it uncovers the full story of what happened on May 31 so it wont happen again.

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