The Apology – more background from Israeli officials via Turkish media

Israel’s colorfully-spoken Foreign Ministry spokesperson Yigal Palmor has kindly explained, to representatives of the Turkish media, some of the problems involved in Israel’s failure to apologize [so far] for the deaths of nine Turkish men [including a 19-year-old Turkish American high school student] during the ill-prepared and ill-conceived boarding of the 600-passenger Turkish ship Mavi Marmara on the high seas in the eastern Mediterranean on 30 May 2010 by a few helicopter-borne Israeli commandos [who apparently expected to be instantly obeyed].

The Turkish Hurrieyet Daily News reports today that Palmor said negotiations with Turkey involved discussions including the word “apology”. “Yigal Palmor, a spokesperson for the Israeli Foreign Ministry, also told a group of Turkish journalists in Jerusalem earlier this week that the deal was put on hold at the very last minute before being voted on by the Israeli Cabinet. This was due to ‘additional conditions’ set by senior Turkish government officials”. This is reported here.

As it turns out from a reading of this Hurriyet report, the “additional conditions” were not part of the discussions or negotiations, but rather were entirely separate. It appears that the linkage was made by Israel.

Hurriyet reports that “the agreement had lost its credibility before it was put to a vote by the Israeli Cabinet, Palmor said, due to the additional conditions later publicly set by Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdo?an. ‘While it was being discussed by the Israeli Cabinet, Mr. Erdo?an made a statement in which he called on Israel to lift the blockade on the Gaza Strip. Later, a high-ranking Turkish official, it may have been Mr. Erdo?an again, said the government would not pursue prosecution of the Israeli soldiers involved in the raid, but that they could not give guarantees for other parties. Those were additional conditions’, Palmor said. Following these statements, the deal was shelved, Palmor said”.

So, what was the “apology” going to be?

According to this account in Hurriyet, Palmor “revealed the long-discussed wording of the planned deal on the issue: ‘If possible operational mistakes led to unintentional damage and unintentional loss of life, then Israel apologizes’. The spokesperson also underlined the fact that it was an agreement that ‘included an “if”,’ and it was not intended to state as a fact that something wrong had happened as a direct result of Israeli policy”.

This Turkish newpaper’s report on Palmor’s briefing adds that “The planned agreement, which was negotiated by Turkish and Israeli diplomats in Geneva, had many layers, said Palmor. ‘According to the plan, Israel was supposed to announce an agreed formula that would be satisfactory for both sides, to agree with the [UN’s] Palmer Report before it was published, and to agree to pay compensation to the families of victims through a joint Turkish-Israeli fund’, he said … According to the spokesperson, Turkey, in return, agreed to restore diplomatic ties to their previous level, to declare it had no claims left on the issue, and to announce it would not pursue the prosecution of the Israeli soldiers who were involved in the raid. But, following the statements from Turkey, the deal was never submitted to the Israeli Cabinet for voting, Palmor said”.

The Mavi Marmara was part of a “Freedom Flotilla” of some six boats, with large unofficial Turkish participation headed by the IHH humanitarian aid organization, headed to “break the siege” on Gaza — over a year after Israel had declared a formal maritime blockade of Gaza’s maritime space.

Israeli think-tanks and Israeli officials warned many times in advance of the sailing of the Freedom Flotilla that they viewed it as a “terrorist” threat.

Lebanon complains to UN about Israel's maritime claims

Here, as published today in Haaretz, is the Israeli claim to an Exclusive Economic Zone in the Eastern Mediterranean — in an area that seems to be rich with newly-discovered undersea gas deposits [the two lighter blue zones, marked Leviathon and Tamar, are the two  announced by Israel over the past two years or so]:

graphic on Haaretz of Israel's maritime claimsIt’s hard to tell without more references, but it looks as though the line drawn as Israel’s “Northern Maritime Border” does not go straight out from the coast at a 90 degree perpendicular to the coast — instead, the line shown here seems to go north…

A report by the German News Agency DPA published in Haaretz reports that “Lebanese Foreign Minister Adnan Mansor, in a letter sent Monday to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, rejected Israeli claims of the northern part of the waters between the two countries. ‘The Israeli claim infringes on Lebanon’s Exclusive Economic (sea) Zone’, a zone that gives a country the right to explore its maritime resources. ‘This is a clear violation of Lebanon’s rights… over an area of some 860 square kilometers, and puts international peace and security at risk’, it said”. This is published here.

As Haaretz reports, “Over the past two years, Israel has discovered two fields thought to contain about 24 trillion cubic meters of natural gas. The discoveries could be enough to make Israel energy self-sufficient for decades”, while “Norway-based Petroleum Geo-Services this year announced it had explored Lebanese waters which contained “valuable information” on potential offshore gas reserves”. Meanwhile, Lebanon and Israel have not ended the state of war that has existed since 1948, and do not speak directly to each other, or have diplomatic relations.

So, they have each asserted their claims in the media — and now at the UN [through the Secretary-General and his special representative…]

There is no legal determination on Israel's naval blockade of Gaza, only opinions + debate

Here are some excerpts, which I’m recording here as notes for the record, from a discussion about the Israeli seizure of the Flotillas headed to Gaza and Israel’s continuing naval blockade of Gaza, in comments made on a post on Mondoweiss, written by Steve Fake and published on 19 July, entitled “Destination? Gaza!: The Freedom Flotilla II meets the Israeli military:, which is posted here.

What I found interesting was the exchange about legality.

Hostage wrote on July 20, 2011 at 7:26 am:

The official commentary on Article 59 of the Geneva Conventions describes many of the customary prohibitions that Israel is deliberately violating regarding supplies of essential items and relief consignments to a civilian population. The convention provides that free passage of relief consignments is mandatory:
The principle of free passage, as set forth in this clause, means that relief consignments for the population of an occupied territory must be allowed to pass through the blockade; they cannot under any circumstances be declared war contraband or be seized as such by those enforcing the blockade. The obligation to authorize the free passage of relief consignments is accompanied by the obligation to guarantee their protection. It will not be enough merely to lift the blockade and refrain from attacking or confiscating the goods. More than that will be required: all the States concerned must respect the consignments and protect them when they are exposed to danger through military operations“.

The official commentary also stipulates that the safeguards for verification and supervision,
which were prescribed in the interests of the Powers granting free passage, must in no case be misused in order to make the rule [i.e. free passage] itself inoperative or unduly delay the forwarding of relief“.

France and Turkey were the parties to the landmark S.S. Lotus case in which the PCIJ ruled that “the first and foremost restriction imposed by international law upon a State is that – failing the existence of a permissive rule to the contrary – it may not exercise its power in any form in the territory of another State.” The US abstained from the vote on UN SC 1860. I doubt that Bibi is eager to take on a permanent member of the Security Council in an international court over the the legality of Israel’s blockade or which state owns Gaza’s territorial waters 😉

Continue reading There is no legal determination on Israel's naval blockade of Gaza, only opinions + debate

Netanyahu makes surprising announcement proposing renewal of efforts to complete deal on Gaza gas

In a move stunning in its timing and significance, Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu announced on Friday afternoon – with the Quartet’s Tony Blair standing by his side – that he now thinks it’s time, finally, to develop Palestinian-allocated offshore natural gas deposits buried under the eastern Mediterranean in maritime space, defined by mutual agreement under the Oslo Accords, that extends 20 nautical miles out from Gaza’s coastline.

Netanyahu did specifically mention Egypt in the announcement on Friday, saying: “Most of our [natural gas] supply today is coming from Egypt”, Netanyahu said. But, he added immediately, “It’s important for us to develop additional resources”.

The exact situation on the ground, resulting from the Egyptian-Israeli natural gas deal, is rather unclear.

The announcement – as CNN’s Jerusalem correspondent Kevin Flowers pointed out in a Tweet on Friday afternoon – came on the eve of the first meeting of the Middle East Quartet principles of 2011 on Saturday (February 5) in Germany, on the margins of the Munich Security Conference.

Continue reading Netanyahu makes surprising announcement proposing renewal of efforts to complete deal on Gaza gas

Israel: agreement with Cyprus is "significant"

In continuing confirmation of our previous reporting about the Israeli government’s new appreciation for international law, the Israeli Foreign Ministry is now making an effort to explain the significance of the agreement it reached last Friday afternoon with Cyprus on how to delimit their overlapping maritime rights.

The Israeli FM explained in an email to diplomats that “An Exclusive Economic Zone or EEZ can be claimed for up to 200 nautical miles off the coast of the State”.

But, the eastern corner of the Mediterranean is a relatively crowded place.

Therefore, the Israeli FM explains, “Of course, if there is less than 400 nautical miles between opposite states, as is the case between Israel and Cyprus, international law calls upon such states to come to an agreement to divide their overlapping EEZs, which is exactly what Israel did with its agreement with Cyprus”.

The Israeli FM noted that “There are roughly 230 nautical miles between Israel + Cyprus”, and said that the “median line method” was used to divide overlap. Continue reading Israel: agreement with Cyprus is "significant"

First Israeli negotiation on maritime boundary concluded today – with Cyprus

The first negotiated Israeli decision — negotiated, not imposed — was announced today from Cyprus.

The Associated Press reported from the Cypriot capital Nicosia this evening that “Cyprus and Israel signed an accord Friday demarcating their maritime borders to facilitate a search for mineral deposits in the east Mediterranean where huge natural gas reserves have been discovered. Cyprus Foreign Minister Markos Kyprianou and National Infrastructures Minister Uzi Landau signed the deal in the island’s capital. No statements were made after the signing”. This AP report is published on the Jerusalem Post website here.

This is an important and interesting development.

The main immediate interest is the formal division of the area where important deposits of natural gas have been discovered in the eastern Mediterranean, and where several countries can claim jurisdiction.

“We could live by ourselves, and we could bring in American, Russian, and other exploration companies to help us develop our own undersea gas. But, we wanted to make it the proper way, and to make everything clear”, said a Cypriot diplomat in the region.

However, it is also a very important regional and international development.

It is Israel’s first bilateral negotiated agreement concerning its maritime space, including an “exclusive economic zone” (EEZ) a relatively recent concept that evolved out of long diplomatic negotiations on an major international treaty known as The Convention on the Law of the Sea.

Continue reading First Israeli negotiation on maritime boundary concluded today – with Cyprus

The Libyan-chartered ship has problems off Egyptian coast

A Libyan-chartered Greek ship flying the Moldovan flag and carrying 2,000 tons of food and medical supplies destined for Gaza has reportedly developed mechanical problems [in the engine? with communications devices?] overnight as it approached its declared destination of the Egyptian port of El-Arish.

Israeli warships are reportedly tracking the Amalthea. The Israeli Minister of Defense Ehud Barak earlier called this expedition “provocative”. Israeli military officials say that the cargo this ship is carrying is redundant, because these materials are now entering Gaza relatively freely via Israeli-controlled crossings. However, there are still logistical limitations.

Although Israeli officials continue to be suspicious about the ship — and there have been contradictory claims about the intended destination coming from various people involved with the Libyan aid group that hired the ship and from some of their supporters — they say that as things appear at the moment there does not appear to be any security threat involved. However, they say, they are watching, and will be taking no chances.

The Amalthea appears to have turned off its transponder in recent hours… Or, according to some reports, the ship’s communications are being jammed, and the ship is surrounded by 8 Israeli warships.

Continue reading The Libyan-chartered ship has problems off Egyptian coast

Israeli naval blockade of Gaza asserted in UN documents

Israeli Foreign Ministry officials told Haaretz that Minister Avigdor Lieberman has contacted the Greek and Moldovan Foreign Ministers, and asked them to stop a Moldovan-flagged cargo ship which intended to sail, imminently, from Greece to Gaza.

Reports indicated, Saturday evening, that the ship had just sailed.

The voyage for this ship from Greece to Gaza is estimated to take about 80 hours.

However, Israel’s YNet website has reported that “the Greek government said it had reached an agreement with the crew according to which the ship would not try to reach the Hamas-ruled territory”. The YNet story added that the Israeli Navy will track the vessel throughout its voyage, and that an IDF officer said Saturday night: “Any deviation from the original course, which will lead the ship to Gaza, will be blocked by the Navy … In case those on board fail to follow our instructions to stop and allow the Navy vessels to escort them, we will not hesitate to employ other methods to stop them.” This is reported here.

The ship was chartered to deliver some 2000 tons of food and medical aid on behalf of the Gadhafi International Charity and Development Association, headed by Libyan leader Muammar Ghaddafi’s son, Saif Al-Islam Gaddafi.

Food and medicine are items which should not, at least theoretically, be on the Israeli lists of what it bans from entering Gaza. But there is a problem with some “dual-use” items which could, theoretically at least, also be used in making weapons.

Israel has just published a list based, it said, on a list agreed by some 40 nations, supplemented with extra items prohibited in specific Israeli “internal legislation” — including an unspecified number of military orders drawn up by the Israeli military’s Central Command.

According to the report in Haaretz, written by Barak Ravid, Israeli Foreign Ministry officials said the ship “would dock at Egyptian port el-Arish rather than the Gaza strip”. This is published here.

The Jerusalem Post is reporting that Israel’s Defense Minister Ehud Barak “met Saturday with Egyptian Intelligence Chief Omar Suleiman and discussed the Libyan flotilla that was set to arrive in the Gaza Strip. The two discussed the possibilities of the aid ship being accepted at the Egyptian port of El Arish”. This is posted here.

These are strong and concerted steps by two men who were at each other’s throats a week ago over fallout from the fiasco of the Israeli naval assault on the Freedom Flotilla at sea on 31 May which left nine men dead on board a large Turkish-chartered passenger ship, the Mavi Marmara. [Lieberman accused Barak of leaking news of a meeting that Lieberman had not been informed about between the Turkish Foreign Minister and Israeli Minister Benyamin [Fouad] Ben Eliezar].

Alternatively, an Associated Press report on Israel’s YNet website indicates, somewhat surprisingly, that according to the Libyan charity’s “head volunteer”, Adburaufel Jaziri, the group is prepared to let Israel check the cargo: “Israel ‘can check our cargo and certificates, of course they are free to do this’,” Jaziri said. ‘If we cannot deliver the aid, we will let (Israel) deliver it … Our job is to help anyone who needs it. We don’t care if they are Catholics or Muslims or whatever. Now we are helping the people of Gaza who are suffering”.

YNet added that “The Israeli military would not comment on the Libyan ship. Israel’s policy has been to offer ships of this type the option of docking at an Israeli port, after which Israel will screen the goods aboard and transfer them into Gaza by land”. [According to this AP report, there will only be 27 people on board [15 volunteers, almost all Libyan, and a 12-member crew from several countries] not hundreds, or thousands…] This YNet report is published here.

This was something that neither the Free Gaza movement, nor the coalition of groups on board the Freedom Flotilla, were prepared to allow.

Continue reading Israeli naval blockade of Gaza asserted in UN documents

Uri Avnery: no reason to withdraw Supreme Court petition to disband Turkel commission

Uri Avnery has written in his weekly article that the Gush Shalom movement he heads sees “no reason to withdraw our Supreme Court petition to disband the Turkel commission [appointed to look into the Israeli handling of the Freedom Flotilla on 31 May] and to appoint an official State Commission of Inquiry”.

According to Avnery:
“[T]he commission has not been accorded any legal standing at all. Netanyahu just asked three nice people to find out if the government’s actions were consistent with international law, nothing more”.

UPDATE: The Israeli cabinet voted on Sunday that the commission, headed by former justice Jacob Tirkel, will be allowed to subpoena witnesses and receive sworn testimony, but Israeli soldiers will not be questioned as part of the inquiry. according to the Prime Minister’s office.

Avnery’s article continues: “All commentators agree that the commission was not set up to clarify the affair, but only to help President Barack Obama to obstruct the appointment of an international inquiry commission. All agreed that this is a ridiculous commission without teeth, that its composition is pathetic and the terms of reference marginal. It seems that Judge Turkel himself felt ashamed. After accepting the appointment on Netanyahu’s terms, this week he threatened to resign if his powers were not extended. Netanyahu gave in”.

“NETANYAHU’S DECISION to enlarge the powers of the commission, so that it will be able to summon witnesses, is far from what is needed. The commission will be unable to investigate how and by whom it was decided to impose the blockade on Gaza, how it was decided to attack the flotilla, how the operation was planned and how it was carried out”

“Now, it seems, it will be given the legal standing of a ‘Government Commission of Inquiry’, but definitely not of a ‘State Commission of Inquiry’.

“Turkel himself, a week before his appointment, had also called for the appointment of a State Commission of Inquiry”.

“[A] ‘State Commission of Inquiry’ would resemble a regular court … such a commission would have the power to summon witnesses, have them testify under oath (with the usual penalties for perjury), cross-examine them, subpoena documents, etc. Also, the commission would warn in advance any persons whose interests could be harmed by its findings and accord them the right to be represented by a lawyer” …

Investigation: IHH says it was notified of 40-mile Israeli no-go zone

On 7 May, the Turkish relief organization IHH posted these remarks on its website [in a post entitled “Israel Is Acting Like Pirates”]:

“Bulent Yildirim, President of IHH, said ‘If they harass the flotilla, what is left to separate the state of Israel from the pirates of Somalia?’ noting that the convoy will not even draw close by Israel’s territorial waters, in his response to the Israeli Foreign Ministry’s threats of attacking the ships, should they sail near the Gaza territory.

IHH administration said ‘We will not even pass close by the Israeli waters. If they attack us regardless, what is the difference between them and the pirates of Somalia?’, in their response to the threats by Israeli Foreign Ministry regarding the humanitarian aid ships to Palestine, saying ‘We will strike on the ships if they sail near Gaza’.

Bulent Yildirim, President of IHH (The Foundation For Human Rights And Freedoms And Humanitarian Relief) , said ‘Let them come and attack us, we have no preparation to strike back. Whether they fire down on us, bomb us with airplanes, we will not let them onto our ships. They can attack, yes, but they will not be let onboard. We are not carrying weapons to Palestine, we are carrying humanitarian aid only’.

Yildirim went on to say ‘As a requirement of international laws, 12 miles off the shores belong to the territorial waters of countries. It applies to Israel as well. Our flotilla will be sailing 80 miles off of Israeli coast. We will never enter Israeli waters. We will take a 90 degrees turn just before entering the Egyptian territorial waters. Therefore, Israel have no right to claim ‘They have entered our territorial waters.’ They have no authority there. If they decide to attack us regardless of this fact, then, there is no difference left between Israel and the pirates of Somalia’.”

This statement is posted here.

There is no mention whatsoever on the IHH website — or in any of the organization’s statements that I have been able to locate so far — of the formal declared Israeli Naval blockade [which was announced on 3 January 2009, as the Israeli Army lauched the ground phase of Operation Cast Lead], though this should have factored into the Freedom Flotilla’s strategic planning, and though in fairness and full disclosure all passengers who joined the trip should have been made aware of the implications.

Continue reading Investigation: IHH says it was notified of 40-mile Israeli no-go zone