Israeli Raid on Gaza Flotilla Not Much of a “Turning Point” in US-Israeli Relations

Last night, the United States agreed to the passage of a Security Council “Presidential Statement” on the violence aboard a Gaza bound flotilla raided by Israeli commandos.  Is this the “tipping point” in U.S.-Israel relations that Digby and other may have been predicting?  

The Security Council statement on Israeli peace flotilla raid Security Council seems to say three things. 

1) It condemns the raid. 

2) It calls for the release of the flotilla members and their ships currently being detained in Israel.

3) It calls for a credible investigation into what transpired.

There is not much question about number 2. But apparently, the meaning of the rest of the text is in the eye of the beholder.  And the way in which the Obama administration is choosing to interpret the statement would suggest that there no daylight between the United States and Israel. 

At a press stakeout this morning, the American official who negotiated the joint Security Council statement walked back any suggestion that the council “condemned Israel” for the raid, or that council is calling for an independent international investigation of the incident.  “If you read the text carefully, it makes clear what it means and what it doesn’t mean,” Deputy American UN Ambassador Alejandro Wolff told reporters. “We are convinced and support an Israeli investigation as I called for in my statement earlier and have every confidence that Israel can conduct a credible and impartial, transparent, prompt investigation internally.”

On point 1, what the statement actually says is this:

“The Security Council deeply regrets the loss of life and injuries resulting form the use of force during the Israeli military operation in international waters against the convoy sailing to Gaza. The Council, in this context, condemns those acts which resulted in the loss of at least 10 civilians and many wounded, and expresses its condolences to their families. (emphasis mine)

Depending on your perspective, “those acts” could mean Israeli forces opening fire on civilians on the ship or civilians provoking Israeli forces into firing in self defense.  The American delegate clearly refuses to interpret this as the former.   Others, like council president Claude Heller of Mexico, read it differently.  In an earlier press stakeout Heller made it clear that there is no doubt in his mind that the resolution condemned the Israeli military actions.  (Watch here

On the question of who or what will investigate this incident, the statement also remains ambiguous.  

“The Security Council takes note of the statement of the United Nations Secretary-General on the need to have a full investigation into the matter and it calls for a prompt, impartial, credible and transparent investigation conforming to international standards.” [emphasis mine]

So does this mean that there will be a team of independent international investigators looking into the incident or just an Israeli government investigation (albeit one that “[conforms] to international standards.”) Again, there seems to be ambiguity.  The text does, however, make reference to a statement by Ban Ki Moon earlier in the day. Perhaps that will provide some guidance? 

 We do not yet know the full facts yet. More than ten people appeared to have been killed and many more wounded. It is vital that there is a full investigation to determine exactly how this bloodshed took place. I believe Israel must urgently provide a full explanation. [emphasis mine]

As you can see, Ban’s remarks do not offer much in the way of clarification.

It is important to keep in mind is that yesterday’s Security Council action was not a resolution, but a so-called “Presidential Statement.” The former has the force of law and can be vetoed by the five permanent members. The latter does not have any legal authority, but is politically significant because passing a presidential statement requires unanimity of the entire 15 member council. This means that when a presidential statement is passed, it has the weight of each of the 15 members of the council behind it.  So long as council members put up a unified front, it can be a politically powerful tool. But once that consensus is broken, the statement rapidly loses its utility as a mechanism to pressure a country or group. 

By choosing to interpret the deliberately ambiguous text in the way it is, it would seem that the Obama administration is not trying to pressure the Israelis too hard — at least in public.  A “tipping point” this was not.