Israel approves Gaza flotilla inquiry panel


JERUSALEM (JTA) — Israel’s Cabinet unanimously approved a commission of inquiry into the interception of a Gaza-bound flotilla that left nine passengers dead.

Two foreign observers were named to the commission. 

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said during Monday’s meeting to approve the independent public commission that its establishment "will make it clear to the entire world that the State of Israel acts according to the law, transparently, and with full responsibility."

"I am convinced that the commission’s uncovering of the facts will prove that the goals and actions of the State of Israel and the IDF were appropriate defensive actions in accordance with the highest international standards," Netanyahu said.

The commission will set its own schedule and protocol, and will determine whether its meetings will be open or closed, according to the Prime Minister’s Office.

Retired Israeli Supreme Court Justice Jacob (Yaakov) Turkel will head the commission, it was announced Sunday. The other members of the committee approved Monday are international law professor Shabtai Rosen, winner of the Israel Prize for jurisprudence and the Hague Prize for International Law; and Maj.-Gen. (ret.) Amos Horev, a former Technion president.

Two foreign observers with experience in the fields of military law and human rights also were named to the commission: Nobel Peace Prize laureate Lord William David Trimble from Northern Ireland, and international jurist Ken Watkin, former judge advocate general of the Canadian Armed Forces.

The Obama administration said the commission, as outlined by Netanyahu, has the potential to fulfill its earlier demand for a "full and credible" probe, but added that it was reserving judgment until it saw results.

"Israel has a military justice system that meets international standards and is capable of conducting a serious and credible investigation, and the structure and terms of reference of Israel’s proposed independent public commission can meet the standard of a prompt, impartial, credible, and transparent investigation," a White House statement said. "But we will not prejudge the process or its outcome, and will await the conduct and findings of the investigation before drawing further conclusions."

The statement also called for prompt and transparent results. 

"While Israel should be afforded the time to complete its process, we expect Israel’s commission and military investigation will be carried out promptly," it said. We "also expect that, upon completion, its findings will be presented publicly and will be presented to the international community."

The commission will be entitled to call the prime minister, defense minister, other government ministers and the Israeli army’s chief of staff to testify. It also can request military documents and summaries of investigations currently being undertaken by a military investigative team headed by former National Security Council head Maj.-Gen. Giora Eiland. The commission will not interview soldiers.

Israel waited to announce the commission until after talks with the Obama administration and several European countries in order to ensure that the inquiry’s scope and the committee’s makeup were acceptable.

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