NEW YORK – The fact that relations between President Barack Obama and Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu continue to cool was evident at the United Nations this week.
After almost 12 hours of closed door consultations, the Security Council, with U.S. approval, issued a statement condemning Israel’s recent raid on a flotilla trying to deliver supplies to the port of Gaza.
Gaza, controlled by the terrorist group Hamas, has been under a blockade by both Israel and Egypt since the group assumed power in a controversial election almost three years ago.
Early yesterday, the council met in a formal open session to “condemn” the incident and “request the immediate release of the ships as well as the civilians held by Israel.”
The statement, while part of the council’s official record, has no legal authority and others like it often have been ignored.
But Israel would have preferred no council involvement before it completes an upcoming investigation announced by Netanyahu.
Said former United States U.N. ambassador John Bolton:
“The outcome in the Security Council is a real test for Obama.”
Arab delegations, while disappointed that the council did not approve a stronger statement, were happy they got the U.S. on board for what was approved.
Palestinian observer Riyadh Mansour told reporters that “it was important that the council officially reacted to the incident,” and he “thanked” the U.S. delegation for allowing the statement to be adopted.
The only “react” came from Yigal Palmor, a foreign ministry spokesman, who said he “doubted” the potential “objectivity” of any U.N. sponsored investigation.
And that is where future clashes likely will rise.
Israel and the U.S. are backing a “comprehensive” and “transparent” investigation by Jerusalem. The U.N., on the other hand, is leaning towards an “international” inquiry into the matter.
That already led to a clash between U.S. deputy ambassador Alejandro Wolff and council president Claude Heller of Mexico.
Heller told reporters that the council statement “envisioned” an international investigation while Wolff, echoing earlier comments from Obama, put its efforts into an Israeli government inquiry.
Israel has had a history of run-ins with the U.N. of late.
Last week, Jerusalem was singled out by the U.N.’s nuclear weapons review conference for its “supposed” possession of an atomic arsenal while ignoring Pakistan’s, India’s, North Korea’s and Iran’s nuclear efforts.
Back in April 2002, Israel and the U.N. clashed over an “investigation” similar to the one proposed by the council on Tuesday regarding a so-called “massacre” by Israeli soldiers against an “uprising” in the West Bank town of Jenin.
Palestinian diplomats circulated reports that “hundreds” of civilians were attacked and killed by the Israel Defense Forces.
Israeli foreign minister Shimon Peres hotly denied the accusations.
To prove his point, Peres agreed to allow U.N. chief Kofi Annan to send a group of investigators to the West Bank.
Annan instead used the opportunity to create a 23-man “commission of inquiry.”
Peres and Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon argued that Annan “overstepped” their agreement and blocked the U.N. investigation.
Eventually, the U.N., using various sources, concluded that 52 people (with more than half civilians) may have been killed in clashes with the IDF, but could find no evidence of Palestinian charges of a “massacre of hundreds.”
Daniel Traub, a spokesman for the Israeli foreign ministry said, “There was no massacre and statements by the Palestinian leadership talking about hundreds that were killed were nothing more than atrocity propaganda.”
Palestinian spokesman Saeb Erekat insisted then an “Israeli massacre in Jenin’s refugee clearly happened” and “crimes against humanity also took place.”
It was similar to language released by the same Palestinian leadership Tuesday morning.
Meanwhile, the sponsors of the controversial flotilla insist they will sail again “soon.”
An IDF spokesman retorted, “we’ll be ready for them.”
No comment from the White House.