Netanyahu calls on UN to scrap probe of Gaza war

The demand follows the resignation of the inquiry's chief, Canadian law professor William Schabas

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during a joint news conference with United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, in Tel Aviv, Israel, on July 22, 2014. (Dan Balilty/AP)

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at a joint news conference with United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, in Tel Aviv, Israel, on July 22, 2014. (Dan Balilty/AP)

JERUSALEM — Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday called for scrapping a UN commission, which is tasked with investigating potential war crimes committed last summer in Gaza, after the inquiry’s chief resigned amid accusations from Israel that he was biased against the country.

Netanyahu said the commission, set up by the Geneva-based U.N. Human Rights Council, was an “anti-Israeli body” that had a proven track record of doing nothing about true human rights violations around the world.

The UN commission was due to issue its report next month. Israel did not co-operate with it, saying it was hostile to Israel and that its conclusions were known in advance.

The summer’s war in Gaza, the third between Israel and Hamas since the group seized the seaside territory, killed more than 2,200 Palestinians and 72 people on the Israeli side. At least 1,483 Palestinian civilians were killed in the war — 66 per cent of the overall death toll — according to preliminary United Nations figures.

The UN commission chief, Canadian law professor William Schabas, submitted his resignation on Monday night, according to Rolando Gomez, a spokesman for the U.N. Human Rights Council. Gomez said current commission member Mary McGowan Davis would replace Schabas.

The move followed an official Jan. 30 complaint from Israel accusing Schabas of  “clear and documented bias against Israel,” citing a “contractual relationship with the Palestinian side” prior to becoming head of the commission.

In his resignation letter, which was viewed by The Associated Press, Schabas acknowledged that he received $1,300 for a legal opinion he wrote for the Palestine Liberation Organization in 2012 but said it was of a “technical legal nature” drawn from scholarly work he had published.

He also defended his record, saying that as a “scholar involved in international human rights, I have regularly condemned perpetrators of violations.”

“This work in defence of human rights appears to have made me a huge target for malicious attacks,” Schabas wrote, adding that he was resigning to avoid any distractions while the commission finished its “decisive stage” of work.

The commission’s final report is scheduled to be presented March 23.

After his appointment last year, Schabas said he wouldn’t let his past criticism of Israeli leaders affect his ability to carry out the investigation. But in Israel he was widely regarded as having a distinct anti-Israel bent.

Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum said Schabas’ resignation “shows the huge pressure Israel and the Zionist lobby put on the committee and its chairman.”

The Israeli pressure “is meant for impunity and killing the truth,” Barhoum said.

Netanyahu has accused the U.N. commission of unfairly targeting Israel and ignoring abuses elsewhere.

“This is the same council that in 2014 made more decisions against Israel than against Iran, Syria and North Korea combined,” Netanyahu said, adding that Gaza’s Hamas rulers “need to be investigated, not Israel.”

The 47-member council, which includes several Arab and Muslim-majority countries, has a record of passing more resolutions condemning Israel’s alleged abuses than those of other states. The practice has been criticized as excessive by Israel’s allies, including the United States, which nevertheless supports the council’s overall work.

Israel says it went to great lengths to avoid civilian casualties during the summer war in Gaza and accuses Hamas of both firing rockets at Israeli civilians and using its own people as human shields.

Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said he didn’t expect Schabas’ resignation to affect the inquiry’s final report but credited Israeli diplomacy efforts nonetheless with bringing about the resignation.

“Having Schabas investigate Israel is like having Cain investigate who murdered Abel,” Lieberman added.

Palestinian official Hanan Ashrawi said the Israeli officials remarks were “typical Israeli tactics.”

“They try to intimidate, they try to slander, they try to discredit, they make it extremely difficult for anybody to take any position that would hold Israel accountable or investigating Israeli violations or Israeli war crimes,” she said.

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