Israel must not be allowed to upset the Jenin investigation

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Israel's delays and objections to the UN panel of investigation into Jenin are looking more and more like an attempt to emasculate the entire exercise. If this is so, then it will only add to the impression that the country has something to hide. What happened in Jenin was bad enough, as our report in the Review section suggests, without Jerusalem playing games with the international community.

One should also question the wisdom of Kofi Annan, the UN Secretary General, in bowing to this pressure, delaying the visit of the panel and, worse, considering changing its personnel to accommodate Sharon's demands for more military members.

Establishing the facts of Jenin, in so far as this is possible, is of crucial importance. The Palestinians feel that a massacre was committed by Israeli soldiers in the refugee camp. The Israelis declare that what happened was no more than heavy fighting in which most of the casualties were Palestinian gunmen. Unless there is objective investigation, Jenin will enter the world of corrosive myth, in a region already overburdened with mythology.

Nor are Israeli objections to the make-up of the panel of any substance. Of course, an inquiry such as this needs to take into account the views of military men who understand the fine line between heavy-handed counter-insurgency and indiscriminate firing at civilians. But to suggest that figures such as Sadako Ogata, the former UN High Commissioner for Refugees, and Cornelio Sommaruga, of the Red Cross, are too sympathetic to the plight of civilians underlines the weakness of the Israeli case.

On Tuesday night, both London and Washington were united in their insistence that Israel had no right to interfere with the timing and make-up of the panel. Kofi Annan must not retreat from that view. The truth of Jenin must not only be uncovered, it must be seen to be uncovered. Anything less will serve only to poison the waters for generations to come.