The head of a UN inquiry into last summer’s conflict between Israel and Gaza has said he will resign after Israeli allegations of bias due to consultancy work he did for the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO).
In a letter to the commission, a copy of which was seen by the Reuters news agency, Canadian academic William Schabas said on Monday 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.
Schabas was appointed last August by the head of the UN Human Rights Council to lead a three-member group looking into alleged war crimes during Israel’s military offensive against Gaza.
Schabas’ departure highlights the sensitivity of the UN investigation just weeks after prosecutors at the International Criminal Court in The Hague said they had started a preliminary inquiry into alleged atrocities in the Palestinian territories.
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 organisations.
“My views on Israel and Palestine as well as on many other issues were well known and very public,” Schabas said.
“This work in defence of human rights appears to have made me a huge target for malicious attacks.”
Claims against Schabas
Israel had long criticised Schabas’ appointment, citing his record as a strong critic of the country and its current political leadership.
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 UN headquarters.
“I believe that it is difficult for the work to continue while a procedure is under way to consider whether the chair of the commission should be removed,” Schabas said.
The commission had largely finished gathering evidence and had begun writing the report, he added.
The commission is looking into the behaviour of both the Israelis and of Hamas, the movement that controls Gaza.