Israeli veterans cancel UK trip on arrest fear
By Tobias Buck in Jerusalem
Published: January 5 2010 18:21
Relations between Israel and Britain took a turn for the worse on Tuesday after it emerged that a group of senior Israeli soldiers had cancelled a trip to the UK over fears they may be arrested for alleged war crimes. Danny Ayalon, Israel’s deputy foreign minister, described the situation as “impossible”, and warned that “this will make it difficult for the two countries to maintain a normal relationship”. He added that developments influencing Israelis to stop visiting Britain were damaging to UK interests as well.
Israeli officials have long been critical of provisions in British law that allow the arrest and trial of foreigners suspected of war crimes and other grave violations of international law. They complain that pro-Palestinian campaigners are using this principle of “universal jurisdiction” to pursue Israeli leaders in politically motivated cases.
The Israeli government was particularly angered by an attempt last month to arrest Tzipi Livni, the opposition leader and former foreign minister, over her role in the recent Gaza war. A London court had issued an arrest warrant for the Israeli politician in advance of a scheduled visit, but Ms Livni was warned of the danger and decided to cancel her trip to the UK. The latest case involves a delegation of Israeli military officials who were invited to the UK by the British army. According to reports in the Israeli media, the men had sought a guarantee from London that they would not face arrest during their trip – but failed to obtain a satisfactory answer. In response, they cancelled their trip altogether.
Britain has already promised to review the current provisions allowing judges to issue arrest warrants in such cases, though it is not clear how quickly the legal base for actions against war crimes suspects can be changed. The controversy comes against the backdrop of a deterioration in relations between Israel and member states of the European Union. Countries such as Sweden and the UK have recently taken a more openly critical stance towards Israel, in particular in pressing for an Israeli halt to the expansion of Jewish settlements in occupied East Jerusalem and the West Bank.
The Israeli government was also incensed by a recent draft European Union resolution – which was ultimately changed – that recognised the Palestinian claim to East Jerusalem as the capital of a future state.
Source: The Financial Times Limited 2010.