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Gordon Campbell on the Gaza inquiry, and Carter

Gordon Campbell on the Gaza inquiry, and new twists in the Carter affair

It may seem ‘too late’ to announce the appointment of a UN inquiry panel into the Gaza flotilla raid. Whether it is also ‘too little’ will depend on how broadly the international panel to be chaired by Sir Geoffrey Palmer chooses to cast its net. A narrow, legalistic verdict on the legality under international maritime law of the use of force to defend a blockade will do nothing to address the human rights outrages in Gaza that inspired the flotilla in the first place.

Gaza may not, in fact, be the focus of this exercise at all. In announcing the inquiry, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon voiced the hope that this process would improve relations between Israel and Turkey – no mention of what, if anything, the proceedings will mean to the people of Gaza. If the goals are merely diplomatic ones – lets ease the tensions between the regional powers, Israel and Turkey – it will fall far short of international expectations.

Even a narrow legalistic approach – ie, on the legal niceties of an interception on the high seas in defence of a blockade – should have to consider whether the force used by the Israeli commandos was proportionate to the threat. (On the evidence so far, it clearly wasn’t.) Moreover, if it is deemed legitimate to use force to defend a blockade so surely must be the flipside of that coin – that it is legitimate to use force to break a blockade that is a humanitarian outrage.

The real test of whether this is just a ‘kiss and make up’ opportunity for the Israelis and the Turks will rest on whether the Palmer panel can and will interrogate the Israeli commandos themselves and the Israeli military and political figures who gave the green light for the attack on the flotilla. ( Plus the aid organisation that launched the flotilla, and its supporters in the Turkish government.)

The signs are not good that anything thorough is being contemplated. The preliminary report is expected by September and the inquiry will quite possibly be carried out entirely in New York, according to what Palmer told RNZ’s Morning Report this morning. As Palmer also said, the process may not necessarily require him to go to the Middle East at all – so a wide ranging investigation is almost certainly not on the cards.

Inevitably, the selection of Palmer raises the possibility that Helen Clark may have played a behind the scenes role – especially if it is to be an inquiry carried out in a room at the United Nations building. That’s depressing. Surely, if Palmer wanted to know if the Israeli commandos were defending a valid blockade he might need – at the very least – to go and have a look at the conditions behind the blockade wall ?


Chris Carter, the Never Ending Story

Well, Labour leader Phil Goff had a great first ten minutes in the Chris Carter affair – ticking all the boxes on looking decisive and in charge. That immediate political need having been met, the demands of natural justice have now kicked in – and that includes the right of Carter to a full and fair hearing, and the rights of the electorate that elected him not to be arbitrarily deprived of their chosen representative.

The entire process has now been slowed down by Carter’s absence on sick leave for two months. There are several possible sanctions for Carter’s anonymous attack on the leadership, and a case for expulsion could be a difficult and damaging one to prove, as Brian Rudman pointed out in an excellent column yesterday.

Conceivably, Carter could argue that his anonymous letter was motivated by a concern for the wider wellbeing of the party – and to wake it from its slumbers, given that Labour appears to be sleepwalking to electoral defeat under an unelectable leader. Carter: more Paul Revere than Brutus in this scenario. Moreover, much of the content of the notorious anonymous letter concerned itself with a specific statement by Goff on Radio Sport that he was relatively blasé about workers trading off their fourth week of annual leave, provided they did so freely. Labour Party president Andrew Little has now contradicted that statement, and said that the fourth week is not for sale, period.

So….that’s an interesting twist to the story. Is Chris Carter is to be condemned for raising anonymously what his party president confirmed only days later – and did so arguably, thanks to Carter bringing the issue onto the political agenda? On this issue it is Carter and Little who are singing from the same songbook, and Goff who was – and still is – out of line.

In a court of law, Carter could well argue that he felt provoked – beyond endurance – by Goff’s action. This is not fanciful. To many Labour Party faithful, Goff’s statement would have been a genuine outrage After all, the chief reason for Labour’s opposition to the old Employment Contracts Act in the 1990s had been that such legislation tilts the balance of power in negotiations, and enables employers to make workers an offer they can’t refuse – not if they want a job, or wish to keep it.

In 2010, the sight of a Labour Party leader blithely resurrecting the notion of ‘free’ choice in the workplace – and thereby undermining a major achievement of the Clark government – would have been causing real heartburn behind the scenes. Yet from that point onwards no one on the left of the Labour caucus – it can safely be assumed – would have picked Chris Carter to be their champion in that internal dispute.

Regardless, Carter entered the fray and co-opted the widespread sense of annoyance to fit his own agenda. It could get very messy though for the party to prove that Carter’s agenda was purely personal, and not motivated by the long term welfare of the party. Especially when, as mentioned, Carter and the party president share more in common on the relevant issue than they do with Goff. And especially when a case can be made that Carter’s perception of Goff’s electoral chances is entirely rational.

To outsiders, the whole process may seem to be bogging down now in messy detail. Natural justice is often messy though because competing rights are involved. Decisive driving is always easy on a one way street. This one isn’t clear cut. Carter has given years and years of service to the party and to causes that it holds dear. His controversial Ministerial expenses were signed off by others, at the time. Subsequently his sense of entitlement about refusing to apologise was ugly and clumsy – but being rude to Duncan Garner and the rest of the press gallery is not a capital offence, however unwise it may be in practice. It is now up to Andrew Little to find a way through this morass in a way that will not do further damage to his party and his parliamentary leader. That path now looks a lot less clear that it seemed last Friday.


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