LONDON – Justice Minister Tzipi Livni has been given special immunity to enable her to address a JNF meeting this week – her first UK visit after threats to have her arrested for alleged war crimes led to a change in British law four years ago.
The British government’s decision to give Livni temporary diplomatic immunity for her visit to London later this week stems from threats made by pro-Palestinian supporters and their allies, shortly after the Gaza war, to have her arrested for alleged war crimes against the Palestinians.
A British judge in December 2009 accepted claims that there was sufficient evidence to put Livni on trial and from that date she has not set foot in the country.
After a prolonged campaign led by the Israeli government and the UK’s Jewish community, the British government eventually agreed to change the law concerning war crimes to ensure that those serving in government positions or on special diplomatic missions would be exempt from the threat of arrest.
Against that background the JNF-UK invited Livni to address a meeting later this week, and once the British Foreign Office agreed to grant her temporary diplomatic immunity, she decided to pay a visit to London – which will also see her meeting with Foreign Secretary William Hague to brief him on the stalled peace talks.
A Foreign Office source confirmed to The Jerusalem Post that Livni has been given “special mission” status to enable her to meet UK ministers for “official discussions,” despite renewed attempts by lawyers acting on behalf of a relative of a Palestinian killed in the Israeli bombing of a police compound in Gaza, in December 2008, to have her arrested.
The Foreign Office spokesman explained that since the visit meets all the essential elements for a “special mission” and “for avoidance of any doubt on the matter, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office has confirmed consent to the visit as a special mission.”
Last year Foreign Secretary William Hague announced special arrangements as part of a “pilot process” by which the British government would be informed of “inwards visits” that might qualify for the “special mission” status.
He told MPs that such visits were “a temporary mission, representing a state, which is sent by one state to another with the consent of the latter, in order to carry out official engagements on behalf of the sending state.”
He explained that the High Court would recognize that “under customary international law, members of a special mission enjoy immunities, including immunity from criminal proceedings and inviolability of the person, and that these immunities have effect in the United Kingdom.”
And he added that while not everyone representing a state on a visit of mutual interest was entitled to such immunities, it could only apply if the British government decided whether to recognize a mission with “special” status.
Hague said he would put the pilot scheme into place so that a “special mission” can be organized, prior to any visitor arriving in the country. He warned, however, “Any legal consequences would ultimately be a matter for the courts,” leaving the way open for a legal challenge – though government officials are not anticipating any problems with Livni’s current visit.
Lawyers from Hickman and Rose have worked with the Gaza based Palestinian Center for Human Rights to ask the Crown Prosecution Service to advise the British police to arrest Livni on suspected war crimes offenses and to liaise with the attorney-general to approve criminal charges.
Evidently the efforts to secure her arrest have failed, leading – according to the Guardian newspaper – PCHR’s director Raji Sourani to express his disappointment, especially as a British judge had previously acceded to a request to consider for trial.
The Foreign Office told the Post that it had not received any complaints about Livni’s visit or requests to cancel either the visit or the “special mission” status she has been given.
A spokesman for the embassy told The Jerusalem Post that the use of the manipulation of the UK’s legal system to conduct “lawfare” on one of the most prominent figures leading the peace process is yet another example of the agenda of hatred which has nothing to do with promoting peace but the demonization of Israel and Israelis, as David Cameron himself reiterated during his recent visit to Israel.