x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

Arrest warrant issued in Britain for Israeli ex-minister

Attempts by activists to pursue war crimes charges against Israeli leaders in British courts 'threaten to harm relations between the two countries'.

JERUSALEM // Israel said today that an arrest warrant was issued in Britain against the former foreign minister Tzipi Livni, and warned that attempts to pursue war crimes charges against Israeli leaders in British courts threatens to harm relations between the two countries. Israel urged Britain to change the law, which has allowed Palestinians to pursue charges against non-citizens for alleged crimes committed outside its borders.

The threat already has caused several Israeli officials and retired military commanders to call off trips to Britain. Ms Livni, a one-time lead negotiator with the Palestinians, enjoys a dovish reputation in much of the West. But as foreign minister, she staunchly defended Israel's devastating military offensive in Gaza early this year. Her support for that operation, meant to end years of rocket fire by Gaza militants against Israel, has remained strong, despite widespread international criticism of the hundreds of civilian casualties.

Ms Livni stepped down after February parliamentary elections and is now Israel's opposition leader. Ms Livni's office refused to confirm reports in Arab media yesterday that she had been forced to call off a trip to London because of legal concerns. Instead, it said the trip was cancelled for unrelated reasons. But on Tuesday, the Israeli Foreign Ministry said a warrant had been issued, and it urged Britain to make such legal actions impossible.

"Israel urges the British government to once and for all honour its promises to take action to prevent anti-Israel forces from exploiting the British legal system to act against Israel and its citizens," the ministry said. "The absence of resolute and immediate action to redress this distortion harms relations between the two countries." The ministry said the warrant was later cancelled. It did not explain why, but Britain's Guardian newspaper reported yesterday that the warrant was withdrawn after officials learnt Ms Livni was not on British soil.

Ms Livni did not directly address the warrant in a speech at a security conference today, but said, "I have no problem with the fact that the world wants to judge Israel. The problem is the minute they equate terrorists and Israeli soldiers." The British Foreign Office said today it was looking urgently into the case, adding that Britain was determined to do its best to be a strategic partner of Israel.

"To do this, Israel's leaders need to be able to come to the UK for talks with the British Government," it said. The incident was the latest in a string of attempts by pro-Palestinian activists to have Israeli officials arrested. Pro-Palestinian lawyers attempted earlier this year to invoke the "universal jurisdiction" law to arrest Ehud Barak, Israel's defence minister, but his status as a Cabinet minister gave him diplomatic immunity.