The UN’s Schabas Commission, which is investigating the Gaza operation, has “nothing to look for” in Israel, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said Wednesday.
The remarks were his first public comments regarding Israel’s policy toward the commission.
Speaking after meeting with New York’s Governor Andrew Cuomo in his office, Netanyahu said the commission’s findings had already been written, and its head – Canadian professor William Schabas – had already decided that Hamas was not a terrorist organization, “so they have nothing to look for here.”
“First let them visit Damascus, Baghdad, Tripoli,” he said. “Let them go see Islamic State, the Syrian army, Hamas – there, not here, they will find war crimes.”
Netanyahu said that the UN Human Rights Council, which established the commission, was giving legitimization to murderous organizations like Hamas and the Islamic State.
“Instead of investigating Hamas’s attacks on Israeli citizens and its use of Gaza residents as human shields, instead of investigating the slaughter that [Syrian President Bashar] Assad is carrying out on Syrian citizens, or the Islamic State massacre of Kurds, the UN decided to come and investigate Israel – the only democracy in the Middle East, which is acting legitimately to defend its citizens from murderous terrorism,” he said.
Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman went even further than Netanyahu, saying on Wednesday that Schabas should not be allowed to step inside Israel. During a meeting with local council heads in the South, Liberman pointed out that Schabas had said that both Netanyahu and former president Shimon Peres – a Nobel peace prize laureate – should be indicted for war crimes and brought to the International Criminal Court.
Liberman asserted that Israel “should not cooperate” with the UN commission.
“We must deal with them, but not cooperate or give legitimization to haters of Israel,” he said.
On Tuesday, during an interview with The Jerusalem Post, Liberman would not say whether Israel would cooperate with the probe, saying only that “we don’t have to say what we are going to do.”
The Foreign Ministry’s professional echelon has recommended to Liberman that Israel not cooperate directly with the committee, but instead adopt a model that the country used in dealing with the UN’s Palmer Commission, which investigated the 2010 Mavi Marmara incident. In that case, Israel set up its own parallel body, the Turkel Committee, which then passed its findings on to the UN commission.
Intelligence Minister Yuval Steinitz, meanwhile, said that Schabas should resign because of his previous statements about Israel’s leaders.
“Paradoxically, the only way he can qualify himself for the job is to disqualify himself from the job,” said Steinitz.
“Any honest and fair-minded judge in Israel, Europe or the US who would have made such allegations against one side in a case would disqualify himself” from serving as a judge.
Furthermore, he said, it was telling that a body investigating a military operation did not include any military experts, generals or former military men among its members.
Not only is the composition of the Gaza investigatory commission fundamentally flawed, he said, so is its mandate, which does not even mention Hamas.
The mandate calls for the commission to “investigate all violations of international humanitarian law and international human rights law in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem, particularly in the occupied Gaza Strip, in the context of the military operations conducted since 13 June 2014.”
As such, the wording could allow the UNHRC probe to investigate Hamas violations of international law. On Tuesday, however, Schabas told Channel 2 that he could not comment on whether Hamas would be included in the probe.
Steinitz said any fair judgment of the proportionality of Israel’s response needed to take into account not only Hamas’s continued rocket attacks on Israel’s civilian population, but also the group’s past behavior – including the killing of 1,000 Israelis in suicide bombings during the second intifada – and its ultimate goals, which include the destruction of Israel.
The intelligence minister also expressed astonishment that in the Channel 2 interview, Schabas would not say that Hamas was a terrorist organization – something acknowledged not only by Israel, Egypt, the US and Britain, but also by Schabas’s home country, Canada.
Israel’s Ambassador to the UN in New York Ron Prosor wrote a letter to the UN Secretary- General Ban Ki-moon and asked him to denounce Schabas’s appointment.
The UNHRC announced on Monday that Schabas would head a three-person commission of inquiry on Gaza. It also named Doudou Diène of Senegal and Amal Alamuddin of the United Kingdom to the panel.
Alamuddin, who was born in Lebanon and is engaged to American Hollywood actor George Clooney, has since recused herself from the panel for work-related reasons. The UNHRC has not yet appointed her replacement.
Tovah Lazaroff contributed to this report.