The Palmer Report: Significance and Ramifications


INSS Insight :Following the publication of the Palmer Report after it was leaked to the



No. 280, September 6, 2011



The Palmer Report: Significance and Ramifications


Gallia Lindenstrauss


Following the publication of the Palmer Report after it was leaked to the


New York Times


Turkey took a number of steps against Israel. Most of these measures, such as the


downgrading of diplomatic relations and the official freeze in military relations, which in


any case were already limited, were to be expected, but their scope and intensity are a


blow to Israel. In a press conference held by Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davuto





and in subsequent statements, Turkey repeated its position that it does not accept the


legality of the naval blockade of Gaza; that it will appeal to the International Court of


Justice in The Hague to examine the legality of the blockade; and that the Turkish navy


will act to enforce freedom of navigation in the eastern Mediterranean.


The strong Turkish reaction should be understood against the backdrop of dissatisfaction


with the leaking of the report, the rejection of many of the report’s conclusions, and the


frustration over Israel’s continued refusal to apologize over the flotilla incident. The Turks


seem to have moved from the stage of anger to the stage of revenge. Their actions are no


longer directly connected to the flotilla or to the demand that Israel apologize, and the


actions themselves have the potential to deteriorate into a direct confrontation between the


two countries’ navies.


Since in any case relations between the two countries were at a low point, Turkey’s ability


to pressure Israel on the bilateral level was limited. Hence, appealing to international


bodies and presenting freedom of navigation as a central issue are meant to pressure Israel


in the areas in which traditionally it has been harder for Israel to succeed, and in which the


damage that it may sustain has wider consequences. There are several dimensions to the


Turkish pressure: support for pressing charges by the families of the flotilla casualties


against Israeli soldiers, an appeal to the International Court of Justice in the Hague


concerning the legality of the blockade, and the planned visit of Turkish prime minister


Recep Tayyip Erdo




an to Gaza in order to reawaken international public opinion to the

situation there. Turkey’s emphasis on freedom of navigation is also connected to the


assessment that in the eastern Mediterranean there are natural gas deposits beyond what




INSS Insight No. 280 The Palmer Report: Significance and Ramifications




have already been discovered; to the fact that Cyprus will also gain from these


discoveries; and to the fact that this directly affects the conflict between the Greek


Cypriots and the Turkish Cypriots.


The Palmer Commission’s inability to achieve its main goal, which was to have the sides


reach a compromise that would allow the rehabilitation of relations, and the lack of


American success in bringing about a solution to the conflict, in spite of the heavy


pressure leveled on the parties, resulted inter alia from the strong emotions among both


the Turkish and the Israeli publics concerning the flotilla incident. Had Prime Minister


Benjamin Netanyahu made a decision to apologize, most of the Israeli public would have


opposed this decision. It does not appear that the current Turkish posture will soften this


position; on the contrary, it may be that it further reduces Netanyahu’s room to maneuver


on this issue. This result is unfortunate in light of one of the conclusions in the Palmer


Report: that the two countries were not at all interested in the flotilla incident ending the


way it did.


There was a price for the lack of an apology that the Israeli government was aware of in


general, and this was also the source of the disagreement in the Cabinet on the issue.


Despite the lack of an apology, however, Netanyahu is attempting to emphasize Israel’s


basic desire to calm the situation and rehabilitate relations. Yet while the general approach


of restraint is correct, it is nonetheless important to emphasize three points. First, Turkey


does not accept the report of a commission of the UN of which it was a member – even


though in the report itself it expressed reservations over many of its findings and


recommendations – and that Israel, on the other hand, accepts the report and is acting in


the spirit of its recommendations, and first and foremost, has again expressed regret over


the incident.


Second, the report makes an important distinction between the naval blockade of Gaza and


the limitations on border crossings on land. This is the basis of the report’s determination


that the naval blockade is legal in accordance with international law, and that attempting


to breach such a blockade is reckless, which is true for the current Turkish threats as well.


Third, Turkey also faces some of the challenges facing Israel, and the recent increase in


Kurdish terrorism and the Turkish bombing in northern Iraq only illustrate that there are


quite a few difficulties common to Israel and Turkey, including in the area of international




In the time that elapsed between the flotilla and the publication of the Palmer Report, far


reaching changes have occurred in the Middle East that have the potential to calm Israeli-


Turkish relations, even if it is difficult to see that now. These developments have brought


Turkey closer to the West and distanced it from Iran and Syria. This is a positive


development from Israel’s point of view, although it has not brought with it an


INSS Insight No. 280 The Palmer Report: Significance and Ramifications




improvement in bilateral relations with Turkey. Even the recent rapprochement between


Turkey and Egypt should be seen as an essentially positive development because in this


context, Turkey serves as a counterweight to possible Iranian influence on Egypt. True,


Hamas could also gain from the warmer relations between Egypt and Turkey, but here too


there is the potential for reducing Iranian influence on the Palestinians. To be sure, the fact


that Egypt is today in a transitional period makes it difficult to assess whether the Turkish


efforts to draw closer to Egypt will bear fruit. The regional developments are not


succeeding in and of themselves in bringing Israel and Turkey to settle their dispute, but


perhaps they will be able to lessen the conflict between Israel and Turkey, which is now


entering an especially worrisome phase.