x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

UK to revisit law Israel loathes

Israel welcomes Hague's agreement to amend universal jurisdiction law, which British courts have used to seek the arrest of foreign leaders.

In this photograph released by the Israeli Government Post Office, William Hague, left, the British foreign minister, meets Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, in Tel Aviv yesterday. Moshe Milner / AFP / Handout
In this photograph released by the Israeli Government Post Office, William Hague, left, the British foreign minister, meets Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, in Tel Aviv yesterday. Moshe Milner / AFP / Handout

JERUSALEM // William Hague, the visiting British foreign secretary, yesterday renewed his government's pledge to amend a law that threatens Israeli officials with the possibility of arrest on entering the UK.

The reassurance, in a meeting with Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, came a day after Israel's foreign ministry, in anger over the law, rebuffed London by suspending an annual round of top-level security talks.

After the meeting between Mr Hague and Mr Netanyahu in Tel Aviv, the prime minister's office issued a statement saying Israel "welcomes" the British government's "explicit commitment" to amend its universal jurisdiction law. It allows British courts to issue arrest warrants for alleged violators of international human rights and humanitarian law. Yesterday, an Israeli official, speaking on condition of anonymity, told the Associated Press that the dialogue will take place this year and be held in Israel.

Senior Israeli officials who oversaw past Israeli military or intelligence operations, such as the former foreign minister Tzipi Livni and the current deputy prime minister Dan Meridor, have reportedly cancelled plans to visit the UK out of fear of arrest.

Mr Hague, touring the region to salvage the deadlocked negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians, is reported to have asked Israeli leaders to renew a partial freeze on settlement construction in the West Bank. Palestinians have threatened to walk away from the direct talks if Israel does not renew the freeze, which expired in September.

Mr Hague is scheduled to visit Egypt where he plans to seek support from Aboul Gheit, Egypt's foreign minister. He also plans to meet Amr Moussa, the secretary general of the Arab League, which has given the United States until November 8 to find a solution to the deadlocked talks.

With the negotiations stalemated, members of Israel's Labour party have mounted an assault against their leader, Ehud Barak, criticising him for not pushing Mr Netanyahu hard enough to offer concessions to Palestinian negotiators.

In an interview Wednesday on Israel's Channel Two television, Ofer Eini, a Labour member and head of Israel's main trade union, called Mr Barak an "idiot" and lambasted him for allowing his wife to illegally employ a foreign worker. "You are a minister in the government. Why are you bringing in a Filipina?" Mr Eini asked.

Labour's former dominance in Israeli politics has steadily receded, with the party now holding just 13 out of 120 seats in the country's parliament.

Meanwhile, Mahmoud Abbas, the president of the Palestinian Authority, has accused Iran of attempting to scuttle Mideast peace negotiations by aiding local Islamist groups that are opposed to talks.

The comments, reported by Israeli media, were a veiled jab at Hamas, which receives financial and, some say, military support from Tehran. Hamas took control of the Gaza Strip from the Palestinian Authority in 2007 and has violently opposed participation in the current round of peace talks with Israel.

In a related development, the Israeli military took responsibility for an attack in Gaza on Wednesday that killed a Palestinian fighter it said was involved in firing rockets into Israel.

Mohammed Nimnim, 27 years old and described by the military as a senior member of the Army of Islam, died after his car exploded in the centre of Gaza City.

It was unclear whether the attack, coordinated with Shin Bet, an Israeli security agency, was a missile strike or a car bomb. The Army of Islam, an Islamist group that kidnapped the BBC correspondent Alan Johnston in 2007, has links with al Qa'eda. Its leaders have criticised Hamas as too moderate.

hnaylor@thenational.ae