The UN Choice to Head Investigation of Gaza Flotilla: Not Goldstone But a Set-Up Nonetheless: Geoffrey Palmer of New Zealand

June 8, 2010

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By Barry Rubin

Why is New Zealand’s former Prime Minister Sir Geoffrey Palmer the UN’s choice to head the international investigation of Israel’s confrontation with the Jihadi flotilla militants? Because he’ll make it look fair while finding Israel guilty. Not that he’s highly biased personally, but the cards are stacked nonetheless.

The key reason why Palmer is up for the job is that New Zealand former Prime Minister Helen Clark, whose hatred for Israel is almost unequalled among Western politicians, is now a high-ranking UN official who pushed for him. While nominally she might do so only to have a fellow New Zealander and a fellow Labour Party person, it is hard to believe that Clark would support anyone she expected might find in Israel’s favor. Under Clark, New Zealand was then the only Western country in the world to be ruled by 1960s’ New Left radicals.

Palmer himself, however, is considered to be a fair person who has never been heard to say anything about Arab-Israeli issues. But Helen Cook knows him better than I do and it is hard to believe she would pick anyone she thought might possibly conclude that Israel was in the right.

Actually, while it may seem Palmer was a successful politician he was only briefly a transitional prime minister, picked by a Labour party too split to agree on anyone else. In office, though, Palmer was unpopular because he is aloof, dull, has a high opinion of himself, and does not suffer fools gladly.

In earlier life, Palmer was a left-wing student newspaper editor. Many of the New Zealand Labour Party leaders were New Left activists in the 1960s and 1970s. While later considered a centrist in the New Zealand Labour Party, this is arguably the most left-wing social democratic party in the world.

His expertise in international law seems something of a pose, developed largely since leaving politics. Since his real expertise is not clear he is likely to depend on highly partisan advisors. Moreover, his party and country confronted France over nuclear tests in the Pacific and opposed visits by U.S. ships carrying nuclear weapons. He is not likely to be friendly to the side whose actions are represented by a professional military.

Thus, while Palmer would give the appearance of fairness and may, by his own lights, try to be genuinely balanced, it is likely that his commission would not give Israel a square deal especially once stacked with partisan members and staff who aren’t going to have any real intention of hearing Israel’s side of the story.

After the farce of the Goldstone Commission, the UN needs to put a better face on its next crusade against Israel. But it is unlikely to be a fairer face. Israel seems to be right to reject a Palmer Commission, despite the resulting international criticism.

Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal. His latest books are The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition), The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley), and The Truth About Syria (PalgraveMacmillan). His new edited books include Lebanon: Liberation, Conflict and Crisis; Guide to Islamist Movements; Conflict and Insurgency in the Middle East; The West and the Middle East (four volumes); and The Muslim Brotherhood