Israel-UK relations strained over Livni arrest warrant

The British court practice of issuing war crimes warrants against Israeli official visitors has catapulted UK-Israel relations to the brink of a crisis. Tuesday, Dec. 15, prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu said he takes a grave view of the warrant for the arrest of opposition leader Tzipi Livni issued by pro-Palestinian campaigners for her role in the cabinet which conducted Operation Cast Lead in Gaza a year ago.
“We will never countenance a circumstance which puts Ehud Olmert, Ehud Barak and Tzipi Livni in the dock” or allows Israeli soldiers and commanders “who fought heroically and morally for their country” to be accused of war crimes. This is totally absurd, he said.
UK foreign secretary David Miliband agreed this situation was insufferable and promised to correct it, after Netanyahu’s national security adviser Uzi Arad summoned British ambassador Tom Phillips and informed him that the UK was expected to put an end to an immoral practice aimed at impugning Israel’s right to self-defense.
Ambassador Philips was also told by Naor Gilon, deputy director general at the foreign ministry in Jerusalem, that if Israeli officials continued to be unable to visit London, the UK’s role in Middle East diplomacy would be compromised.
Tzipi Livni cancelled the visit to London planned for the coming weekend to step around the British legal loophole exploited by pro-Palestinian campaigners since 2005 to try and drag Israeli officials and former commanders before London courts on charges of “war crimes.” She was to have addressed a JNF conference and met British prime minister Gordon Brown.
Ironically, she nearly fell into the very loophole she failed to plug during her years as foreign minister in the previous government. It is a British legal oddity which allows individuals in the UK to petition police to arrest foreigners as suspected war criminals, on the principle of universal jurisdiction.
Two British premiers, Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, promised her to amend the law which has never been used against any other world politicians, even tyrants like Zimbabwe’s Mugabe, but they never did anything about it.
Livni herself said she was not bothered by the world’s judgment of Israel for doing what it needs to do and what is right. As a member of former war cabinets, she stressed she would repeat each and every decision. What she found most troubling was the failure in some quarters to distinguish between terrorists and their actions and the duty performed by Israel soldiers in their country’s defense.
Israel complies with international law no less than any other Western country such as the US and Britain. As foreign minister, Livni was much less vehement.
At the foreign ministry Tuesday, the British ambassador heard a long list of unresolved Israeli grievances against his government. They included its support for the Swedish proposal for the European Union to recognize East Jerusalem as the capital of a future Palestinian state, the biased Goldstone Report, the various British boycotts of Israel – academic and commercial, including the Brown government’s directive to chain stores to blacklist Israeli products manufactured on the West Bank.
Livni was not the first Israeli official to be hounded by pro-Palestinian groups and lawyers.
The most bizarre incident occurred earlier this year when Gordon Brown invited Israeli defense minister Ehud Barak to Downing Street and was almost prevented from seeing him by one of those court orders. The UK premier hurriedly intervened to get the court order delayed until the Israeli minister left the country.
However, Moshe Yaalon, strategic affairs minister, called off a UK visit to address a fundraiser for Israeli soldiers two months ago. In an earlier embarrassing diplomatic incident in September 2005, retired Israeli general Doron Almog was warned not to disembark from a plane at Heathrow because a British police officer was waiting at the terminal with an arrest warrant submitted by pro-Palestinian “human rights activists.”

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