Britain’s failure to change its laws regarding universal jurisdiction has
effectively halted bilateral dialogue with Israel, officials in Jerusalem told
visiting British Foreign Secretary William Hague on Wednesday.
situation stands, Israeli officials who land in the United Kingdom risk
detention based on complaints of war crimes lodged by pro-Palestinian groups,
Foreign Ministry officials told the visiting British delegation.
Hague: Change universal jurisdiction law
Europeans hail return to negotiating table
this means in practice is that Israeli officials or ministers can not visit
England, a Foreign Ministry official told The Jerusalem Post after the
Without such visits, it is impossible to conduct a bilateral
relationship that includes holding the strategic dialogue necessary to combat
terror, the official said. “Why would they go, if they can not return home
safely?” he asked.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor said that
Israel’s relationship with Britain was “very good” but the existing law “makes
it impossible to conduct dialogue at the highest level.”
The fact that
Hague landed in Israel Tuesday night, just one day after Deputy Prime Minister
Dan Meridor had to cancel a trip to London, only served to underscore this point
for Israeli officials. Earlier this year, opposition leader Tzipi Livni also
pulled out of a trip to Britain.
“This issue of detention by Israeli
officials is the top item on our agenda,” said Palmor.
Hague assured his
counterpart, Avigdor Lieberman, that his government was committed to changing
the legislation before the end of this parliamentary session.
important that Israeli politicians are able to visit the UK,” Hague told
reporters in Jerusalem, noting that the British parliament is working to change
the law so that a “universal jurisdiction” arrest “would have to be one that had
a reasonable prospect of prosecution, so that it is not used for trivial or
political reasons.” Britain and Israel are also at odds over the issue of new
settlement construction, which Hague believes should be halted to advance the
In Ramallah on Wednesday, Hague met with his Palestinian
Authority counterpart, Dr. Riyad al-Malki, and Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, who
briefed him on the latest developments surrounding the peace process and the
situation in the PA, Palestinian sources said.
Fayyad discussed the
“dangers threatening the future of the peace process as a result of Israel’s
continued practices and violations, especially the ongoing construction in the
settlements and incursions.” Fayyad also reaffirmed the importance of the EU in
helping achieve peace in the Middle East. He also briefed the British minister
on his efforts to build state institutions and thanked the British government
for providing financial aid to the Palestinians.
While in Ramallah, Hague
met with activists from the villages of al- Ma’asara and Ni’ilin, whose
residents, together with extreme leftists from Israel and abroad, hold regular
protests against the security barrier and continued settlement growth.
also spoke with representatives of the Holy Land Trust, a pro-Palestinian
organization in Bethlehem that promotes the use of non-violent
Activists in the meeting reported that Hague said he
supported the group’s non-violent struggle.
Iran’s growing nuclear threat
was also high on Hague’s agenda. He held a round-table discussion with Israeli
security officials and ministers Wednesday morning.
“We have given a lot
of attention to the Iranian nuclear program,” Hague told President Shimon Peres
when he met with him in Jerusalem later in the day.
Similarly, he told
Peres, his country has also been concerned with the situation in Sudan, Lebanon
“There are so many issues on which, as a security council
member, we have to be very active to prevent future conflict,” he
Peres responded that behind “what is happening in Lebanon and
Yemen, you will find an Iranian finger. They are aggressive and do not respect
the law,” he said.
Hague took time to visit the Schalit protest tent
outside Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s home in Jerusalem as well.
called on Hamas to release Gilad Schalit, who has been held captive by that
group for 1592 days.
“The fact that Gilad Schalit is still being held
without any access to humanitarian organizations tells you all you need to know
about Hamas. If they want to join the West and be part of us, they must release
Hague took advantage of his visit to sign a Film
Co-production Agreement with Israel at the Foreign Ministry. He signed a similar
one with the Palestinians in Ramallah. It is the first bilateral agreement
Britain has signed with the Palestinians.
At a dinner on Wednesday
evening at the residence of British Ambassador Matthew Gould, Hague announced
the formation of a new top level UKIsrael Life Sciences Council, which aims to
take scientific cooperation between the two countries to new
When Gould presented his credentials to Peres last month, he
told him that one of his key objectives was to intensify bilateral scientific
With this in mind, the dinner was also a vehicle for
announcing the recipients of grants in energy and environment studies awarded by
BIRAX, the British-Israel Research and Academic Exchange Program which is
largely funded by the UK-based Pears Foundation, United Jewish Israel Appeal and
the British and Israeli governments.
The Pears Foundation invests in
programs that promote respect and understanding between individuals of different
backgrounds. This year it established the Pears Institute for the Study of
Anti-Semitism at Birbeck College at the University of London.
arrival late Tuesday night marked the first high-ranking visit by a member of
the Cameron led government since it came into power in May.
expected to meet Thursday with Netanyahu before leaving for Egypt.
Fay Cashman, Khaled Abu Toameh and AP contributed to this report.
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