Canadian academic William Schabas has resigned from his position as the head of the United Nations’ inquiry into war-crimes allegations in last summer’s Gaza war, which pitted Hamas against the Israeli Defense Force.
The announcement follows revelations that he did legal consulting work for the Palestinian Liberation Organization in 2012. The commission’s report is evidently almost complete, and is due for release in March, so there is little beyond symbolism in Schabas resigning now. As reported by Haaretz, he said he was stepping down to prevent conflict-of-interest complaints from “overshadowing the preparation of the report and its findings,” but if the report is close to completing, it is difficult to believe any of its critics will drop their complaints about Schabas’ influence on the finished product.
Schabas claims in his resignation letter that, before his appointment, “my views on Israel and Palestine as well as on many other issues were well known and very public,” and blamed his stepping down on “malicious attacks.”
The Israelis have long been worried that the investigation would be slanted against them, and Israeli officials and Jewish groups in other countries were not pleased with his appointment, accusing him of harboring pro-Palestinian and anti-Israeli sympathies. As the paper recalls, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu responded to Schabas’ appointment by dismissing the U.N. Human Rights committee as the “terrorists’ rights committee,” while the Israeli Foreign Ministry said the choice of committee chairman “proves beyond all doubt that Israel cannot expect justice and that the committee’s report has already been written.” Israel did not officially cooperate with the investigation, but said it would provide documentation to back up its allegations of Hamas war crimes. Following Schabas’ resignation, Netanyahu repeated his critique of the U.N. commission as an “anti-Israel body” and called for its report to be scrapped.
Schabas insisted he harbored no anti-Israel bias and would not allow “things that have gone on in the past” to influence his investigation of the latest Gaza conflict, but the Jerusalem Post noted at the time of his appointment that he was a great admirer of the U.N. report accusing Israel of war crimes in the 2008 Gaza conflict, citing the efforts of author Richard Goldstone worthy of Nobel consideration (even though Goldstone would later distance himself from the report) and calling for Netanyahu and his predecessor Shimon Peres to be hauled before the International Criminal Court.
A source within the United Nations told France24 that the United Nations would replace Schabas with American judge Mary McGowan Davis.