In Israel, Ameer Makhoul, a Palestinian citizen of Israel who was very active in working for equal rights for Arabs in the state, was sentenced to nine years in prison under a plea bargain reached with the prosecution, averting a trial on charges he spied for Hezbollah. Blogger Richard Silverstein writes “My readers who support the Israeli government’s draconian treatment of its Palestinian citizens will point to Makhoul’s “admission” of guilt as proof that Shabak proved its case. Not at all. As the victim’s attorney noted, he knew of not a single case in which a Palestinian security defendant went to trial and was acquited. Never. Not once. Shabak gets its man, every time. So Makhoul was faced with a choice of ten years or a possible life sentence if (or I should say “when”) found guilty. “ Well, we’ll never know, but Silverstein is certainly correct that the plea bargain does not necessarily mean Makhoul is guilty, only that he was convinced he would be convicted at trial. And the lack of a trial really is a shame because we will never know what kind of evidence was amassed, if any, against Makhoul and it will forever be a case where people are going to believe what they want to believe. And while I don’t share Silverstein’s apparent certainty of Makhoul’s innocence, I certainly do agree that this case has smelled fishy from day one. But under the circumstances, I certainly cannot blame Makhoul for his decision if he was indeed innocent….
With all the attention on Egypt this week, it comes as no surprise that a rather interesting comment at the State Department’s daily news briefing on January 26 went unnoticed. Take a look at this:
QUESTION: Staying in the region. Again, Israel – one day after Israel commission released its report on flotilla crisis, Turkey also released its own report. How do you view Turkish report on the flotilla crisis, which basically contrary to Israeli report right now?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, let’s recapture a little bit here. Last September, the Turkish National Commission of Inquiry submitted its interim report to the UN Secretary General’s panel of inquiry. Each country – Turkey and Israel – has worked seriously and responsibly to get at the facts, and both have made important contributions to the work of the Secretary General’s panel.
We look forward to the process continuing at the United Nations within the Secretary General’s Panel of Inquiry – it’s also called the Palmer Commission – which will give the international community the opportunity to fully review the circumstances surrounding this incident. And we look forward to a full examination of facts and perspectives from all sides.
So we would say that the fact – that the contribution made by Turkey and its analysis and Israel and its ongoing analysis will help us in this ongoing effort to understand what happened fully. And this is an area that still has work to be done.
What is of equal importance to us is the longstanding ties that we have to both Israel and Turkey. They are both close friends of the United States. They have a relationship that has been important bilaterally and to the region, and we hope that both countries will continue to seek opportunities to move beyond the recent strains in their own bilateral relations.
QUESTION: I just – on Monday you had some fairly kind words for the Israeli investigation into this. I believe you described it as transparent, open, and balanced. If it weren’t – wasn’t those exact words, it was close to it.
MR. CROWLEY: Transparent and independent.
QUESTION: Independent. Would you use the same adjectives to describe the Turkish report?
MR. CROWLEY: I think that Turkey has put forward its own good-faith effort. I have no reason to question that it also has –
QUESTION: But it’s directly at odds with the Israeli report.
MR. CROWLEY: Well, and given the incident and the circumstances, I don’t think that we’re surprised that there are differing views of what transpired. That is expressly why we support the UN panel so that we can take the Turkish perspective, and it has a valid perspective; we can take the Israeli perspective, it has a valid perspective; and together, try to fully understand what happened. So – but just to reinforce that through the UN panel there’s still work to be done and there’s still, obviously, an effort that will be important to understand fully what happened last year.
QUESTION: So you would not use the same words to describe the Turkish report as the Israelis’?
MR. CROWLEY: I’m saying that Turkey – it is an independent, credible report. I’m not challenging either one.
QUESTION: Well, how can they both be –
MR. CROWLEY: I think both countries are –
QUESTION: How can they both be credible –
MR. CROWLEY: Both countries are doing what they can to help contribute to a fuller understanding of what happened during this incident last year.
QUESTION: Are they? Or are they helping to contribute to their version of what happened?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, they – each has provided the UN Secretary General with a report. These are important steps. They contribute to a fuller understanding of what happened. And through Palmer Commission we will try to obviously resolve contradictory points of view. We understand that.
Wow. I’ll bet that didn’t sit well in the offices of AIPAC. State basically says that both Turkey and Israel were equally credible, and supports the UN investigation into the incident. That is a far cry from the outright support for their version that Israel has, for very good reason, come to expect from the US. Remember the immediate support given to Israel from all corners during Operation Cast Lead, where the Israeli attack was repeatedly justified by US officials with only the caveat of “urging them to do their utmost to protect innocent civilians” being tossed in? Stay tuned on this one, because it has many implications, both for the issue of the flotilla and in giving a very strong indication of how the Obama Administration is going to balance our relations with Turkey and Israel as those two former friends grow farther apart.