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February 3, 2015 9:10 am

Head of UN Inquiry into Gaza War Resigns Over PLO Link, Triggering Calls for Investigation into UN Bias, Corruption

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Conflict of interest: Canadian academic William Schabas has resigned from the UN Inquiry into the summer 2014 war in Gaza. Photo: Twitter

The Canadian academic appointed to head a UN inquiry into the summer 2014 war between Israel and the Hamas regime in Gaza has resigned because of a conflict of interest involving the PLO, sparking immediate calls from the Israeli government and pro-Israel groups for the commission to be investigated for bias.

William Schabas, who was appointed last August by the head of the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) to lead a three-member group looking into alleged war crimes during Israel’s military offensive in Gaza, announced his resignation after Israeli allegations of bias stemming from his consultancy work for the PLO. In a letter to the commission, a copy of which was seen by Reuters news agency, Schabas said he would step down immediately to prevent the issue from overshadowing the preparation of the report and its findings, which are due to be published in March.

In the letter, Schabas said a legal opinion he wrote for the PLO in 2012, for which he was paid $1,300, was not different from advice he had given to many other governments and organizations.

“My views on Israel and Palestine as well as on many other issues were well known and very public,” he wrote. “This work in defense of human rights appears to have made me a huge target for malicious attacks (…).”

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Schabas said his work for the PLO had prompted the Human Rights Council’s executive on Monday to seek legal advice about his position from U.N. headquarters.

“I believe that it is difficult for the work to continue while a procedure is underway to consider whether the chair of the commission should be removed,” he wrote.

The commission had largely finished gathering evidence and had begun writing the report, he added.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu urged that the inquiry be disbanded.

“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 – an anti-Israel body, the decisions of which prove it has nothing to do with human rights – needs to be shelved. This is the same council that in 2014 made more decisions against Israel than against Iran, Syria and North Korea combined,” Netanyahu declared.

Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman hailed Schabas’ resignation, calling it an achievement for Israeli diplomacy which proved that “even the greatest hypocrites in international forums could not ignore the fact that appointing Schabas to investigate Israel was like appointing Cain to investigate Abel.”

Israeli watchdog NGO Monitor said that the appointment and resignation of Schabas was “a symptom of corruption and immorality in the United Nations and other platforms for anti-Israel demonization.”

“The damage has been done. William Schabas, whose bias against Israel was well established, should never have been appointed in the first place,” said Professor Gerald Steinberg, president of NGO Monitor. “Since the Commission has completed its fact-finding stage, the final report will be tainted by Schabas’ leadership until this point.”

Steinberg said that Schabas’ work with the PLO “raises numerous questions, which should be publicly and transparently addressed by the UNHRC.” These questions include whether there were other conflicts of interest that Schabas did not disclose, the nature of his connections and consultancies with “politicized NGOs” like Amnesty International, why the UN’s vetting process did not ask Schabas to detail his consultancy work before he was appointed, and when UN officials became  aware of his link to the PLO.

Even before the revelation of his work for the PLO, Schabas was regarded as highly suspect because of his long record of anti-Israel statements, as documented by the Geneva-based advocacy organization UN Watch. In November 2012, when asked which world leader he would like to see on trial, he ignored serial human rights abusers like Iran, North Korea and China. “My favorite would be Netanyahu in the dock of the International Criminal Court,” he said.

During a BBC interview last July, Schabas betrayed his bias by opining, “Prima facie, there is evidence of disproportionality in the response that Israel is undertaking.”

Professor Steinberg pointed out that the UN Human Rights Council had failed to learn the lessons” from South African Judge Richard Goldstone’s “denunciation of his own pseudo-investigation in 2009,” in which Israel was falsely accused of war crimes during its defensive Operation Cast Lead in 2008-09.

“Before there is further embarrassment, the Commission should disband immediately,” Steinberg said.

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