Israel called Tuesday for the shelving of a UN inquiry into its war last summer in the Gaza Strip after the probe’s head quit over Israeli accusations of conflict of interest.
Canadian international law expert William Schabas resigned Monday after Israel complained that he had prepared a legal opinion for the Palestine Liberation Organisation in October 2012, the United Nations said.
Schabas strongly denied that he was beholden to the PLO but said he was reluctantly stepping down to avoid the inquiry into the July-August conflict — commissioned by the UN Human Rights Council — being compromised in any away.
“Under the circumstances and with great regret, I believe the important work of the commission is best served if I resign with immediate effect,” he wrote in his letter of resignation.
Council president Joachim Ruecker accepted the resignation, with spokesman Rolando Gomez saying that “in this way even an appearance of conflict of interest is avoided, thus preserving the integrity of the process.”
The UNHRC later Tuesday appointed Mary McGowan Davis, already a member of the inquiry, to succeed Schabas.
But Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu seized on Schabas’s departure to demand whole investigation be abandoned, charging that the rights council was an “anti-Israel body”.
“After the resignation of the committee chairman who was biased against Israel, the report that was written at the behest of the UN Human Rights Council â- an anti-Israel body, the decisions of which prove it has nothing to do with human rights â- needs to be shelved,” Netanyahu said.
“This is the same council that in 2014 made more decisions against Israel than against Iran, Syria and North Korea combined.”
Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said Schabas’s resignation would make little difference to the inquiry’s outcome.
“It won’t change the committee’s report’s conclusions, which were biased in advance in accordance with the body that formed the committee, whose sole purpose is attacking and harming Israel,” he said.
The Palestinians said Netanyahu’s calls were an attempt to intimidate UN investigators and cloud the issue.
“This (resignation) is a minor issue. Israel makes a habit of using whatever means they can to attack, defame, discredit and intimidate,” senior PLO official Hanan Ashrawi told AFP.
“It’s a tactic to avoid accountability and treat Israel as a country that is above the law,” she said.
– Stormy relations –
Israel has long had stormy relations with council.
In January 2012, it became the first country to refuse to attend a periodic review of its human rights record. Two months later, it cut all ties with the council over its plans to probe how Jewish settlements were harming Palestinian rights.
Last November, it announced that it would not cooperate with Schabas’s investigation because of the “obsessive hostility against Israel of this commission and the words of its president against Israel and its leaders.”
Gomez said the commission, which is scheduled to present its findings next month, was in “the final phase of collecting evidence” and could name a new chairman as early as Tuesday.
He said the council president had stressed “the need to remain focused on the substantive work of the commission in the interest of the victims and their families on both sides.”
The Gaza conflict ended with a truce between Israel and the territory’s Islamist de facto rulers Hamas on August 26 after the deaths of more than 2,140 Palestinians, most of them civilians, and 73 people on the Israeli side, mostly soldiers.
The rights council vowed in August that both Israel and Hamas would be “subjected to a thorough investigation.”
Hamas welcomed the inquiry but Israel has repeatedly complained to UN chief Ban Ki-moon that it is one-sided.
Israel has accused Hamas of firing rockets from densely populated civilian areas during the war and from UN schools, and the army released videos it says proves such claims.
The UN itself condemned Gaza militants for storing rockets in a school early in the conflict.
Israeli shelling hit several UN schools sheltering displaced Palestinians, killing scores of people.
Israel claimed militants had directed rocket fire from nearby them, but its strikes were denounced by the world body.