Israel halts 'dialogue' with UK over war crimes law

Media caption,
UK Foreign Secretary William Hague is on an official visit to Israel

Israel is postponing "strategic dialogue" with Britain over defence and security issues, an Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman has said.

The move is a protest over attempts to use British law to prosecute visiting Israeli officials, the spokesman added.

The news comes on the first day of an official visit to Israel by the UK's Foreign Secretary William Hague.

The Foreign Office said the British government was moving to curb the use of "mischievous" arrest warrants.

Mr Hague will also be visiting the occupied territories during his visit.

An arrest warrant was issued through UK courts for Israeli former Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni in December last year. The warrant was granted by a London court at the request of Palestinian plaintiffs, provoking Israeli anger.

It was revoked when it was found Ms Livni was not visiting the UK.

The Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman denied that the latest development was a deliberate "ambush" to humiliate Mr Hague.

Earlier this week it was reported that Israel's Intelligence Minister, Dan Meridor, cancelled a trip to Britain amid concerns that he risked being arrested on war crimes charges.

Israel has expressed anger that, in the past, ministers and senior military figures have had to cancel visits to the UK because of concerns that pro-Palestinian groups might use the courts to seek their arrest over Israeli military action in Gaza, or this year's raid on a Gaza-bound aid ship in which nine Turkish activists were killed.

Pro-Palestinian campaigners have tried several times to have Israeli officials arrested under the principle of universal jurisdiction, which holds that some alleged crimes are so grave that they can be tried anywhere, regardless of where the offences were committed.

The BBC's Wyre Davies said the news that Israel was postponing an annual round of strategic talks with Britain was potentially embarrassing, even though the Conservatives have already promised to amend those laws which could expose visiting Israeli politicians to arrest.

The Israeli Foreign Ministry said the issue would be at the top of the agenda during Mr Hague's visit.

A Foreign Office spokeswoman said: 'We share Israeli concerns about the current universal jurisdiction arrangements which inhibit Israelis visiting the UK without fear of mischievous arrest warrants.

"That's exactly why the government is moving as quickly as possible to amend them. A written ministerial statement was tabled to parliament in July and legislation will be tabled in the very near future. We remain committed to the strategic dialogue with Israel and have an ongoing dialogue on a whole range of issues including Iran.

"We are discussing dates for the next round of the strategic dialogue with Israel."

Your Comments

I don't often agree with our foreign ministry but if the British government knows that the current law is wrong, then why haven't they changed it? The previous Labour government promised to change and never did. It shouldn't take that long for someone to draft an amendment to the law and pass it through parliament. Instead of talking about changing the law, just do it. Andrew Lerner, Eilat, Israel

War crime charges? It's a bit disappointing to hear such comments from the UK. The Israeli government has done nothing absolutely wrong to deserve such unjust treatment by the UK. The UK should be careful how they listen to comments lest they could lose a strong relationship with Israel. Iloba C Nmutaka, Asaba, Nigeria

It is an insult to Britain. Israel has done this to other diplomats in the past, like Joe Biden, Turkish diplomats and others. The problem is, Israel is a spoilt, fearless child who cares for no-one. Sam, Jeddah

This is yet another attempt by the current Israeli right-wing government to bully its allies and enemies into getting exactly what they want. This current regime knows no bounds for respect of others. They care only for themselves. They do not seem to differentiate between friend or foe, but perhaps they have pushed their luck so far that they now fear that even their friends can no longer be hoodwinked and relied upon? Frank, Zurich, Switzerland

What do the Israelis expect? It would compromise the principles on which British justice is founded to grant exceptions to anyone merely on the grounds that they are Israeli. That Britain acknowledges and endorses universal standards of human rights is not a fault, but a strength of our system, and one which should not be toyed with lightly. Yace Yogenstein, Budapest, Hungary

If they want to stop the strategic discussions and embarrass the government, then Britain should let the existing law stand. Time for the world to stop pussyfooting around with these people. Bill, Rehpboth Beach, USA

If "Western diplomats are often frustrated by the way the Israeli foreign ministry works", maybe it's because the current Israeli foreign minister is unwilling to overlook the two-faced behaviour of their UK counterparts? Daniel, Jerusalem, Israel

I am very upset that the British leaders are trying to amend the law that permits these charges to be brought against the offending party. Whether it is the Congo or Palestine, human rights violations are still human rights violations. Keith Baker, Cincinnati, USA

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