Friday, August 6, 2010

The Economist :The UN and Israel - sailing forward - Israel feels more wanted on the East River

ASK almost any Israeli about the United Nations, and you will be told that the country gets a raw deal from the organisation that voted the Jewish state into existence in 1948. The talk in Israel is of a “built-in majority” of hostile states in the General Assembly, and a secretariat that is cool at best.

But this week Binyamin Netanyahu accepted a UN inquiry into the bloody encounter between Turks and Israelis on May 31st, in which nine people from Turkey (one an American citizen) on a flotilla bent on delivering supplies to Gaza were killed by Israeli commandos. The prime minister’s decision to help the investigation was calmly received in Israel, although Tzipi Livni, the opposition leader, complained that the army could be exposed to foreign prying.

One reason for Israel’s acquiescence is a positive feeling towards the UN secretary-general, Ban Ki-moon. Israeli ministers and diplomats speak of him with warmth, in private as well as in public, and Israeli citizens have begun to exclude him from their anti-UN animus.

The UN “review panel” will be headed by a former prime minister of New Zealand, Geoffrey Palmer, who is an expert in international law, and the outgoing president of Colombia, Álvaro Uribe. It will include representatives of Turkey and Israel, and it starts work next week. Israeli officials say the prime minister and other senior policymakers will appear before the panel, though Mr Netanyahu has made clear that members of the armed forces will not be available.

Mr Ban has said that simply setting up the new body should improve the relationship between Turkey and Israel as well as the broader climate in the Middle East. Those hopes are shared in at least one other quarter—the American government, which put strong pressure on all parties to accept the inquiry.

Another American priority, it seems, is to make sure the exercise looks mainly at how ties between its two key allies can be renewed, rather than picking over the past. In fact, the panel will hardly be doing any investigating of its own: merely studying the facts that each country has gathered. “The focus of the panel is appropriately on the future,” said Susan Rice, America’s UN ambassador. Another of its purposes—in both American and Israeli eyes—is to pre-empt other investigations, such as one that has been started by the UN Human Rights Council, where Israel is endlessly in the dock.