William Hague 311.
(photo credit: AP)
As British Foreign Secretary William Hague began his visit here, he was served
notice by his hosts that Israel will postpone all participation in its bilateral
strategic dialogue with London.
This may seem like a particularly unkind
and intemperate cut, considering that Hague perceives himself as a good friend
of this country and that his is the first highprofile British visit to Israel
since David Cameron’s Conservative- led government assumed office last
But Israeli resentment has been building steadily for some years – a
cumulative outrage over the fact that no Israeli higher-up can dare go to
Britain with the ease with which Hague can come here.
The latest case in
point is that of Deputy Prime Minister Dan Meridor – no hardline, uncompromising
hawk by any yardstick – who had to cancel a trip to London a day before Hague’s
arrival here. Meridor scrapped his plans to avoid potential detention on a
war-crimes warrant, made possible by Britain’s “universal jurisdiction”
regulations, which permit prosecution there for alleged crimes against humanity
said to have been perpetrated abroad. Anyone can demand that any visitor to
Britain be taken into custody on this pretext.
The hounding of Israeli
politicians and IDF officers overseas has in recent years become a favorite
pastime of some Arabs and Muslims worldwide, along with a retinue of self-styled
human rights activists, among them some Israelis.
Meridor isn’t the first
Israeli official to have been forced to avoid Britain. Last December, Kadima’s
Tzipi Livni was likewise threatened with prosecution. Perhaps the most famous
incident involved Doron Almog, the former OC Southern Command, who was warned
during a flight to London in September 2005 not to leave the plane, lest he be
arrested for his role in anti-terror operations.
Thus, while Hague can
visit Israel, comfortable in the knowledge that the authorities here are working
relentlessly to keep this country, its citizens and its guests safe, those very
people who are protecting us, and him, from terrorists’ predations cannot set
foot in his country.
HAGUE’S OWN party has acknowledged the absurdity and
promised “speedy action” to prevent this cynical abuse of its laws. Yet despite
the declarations of intent, there has thus far been no action, speedy or
On the eve of his visit, Hague told Israel Radio’s English
News that “this is an unacceptable situation. We have to take the necessary
legislation through Parliament...The relevant legislation will be introduced
within a matter of weeks,” he promised, “and will go through this session of
Parliament, which means it will be able to become law at some stage next year...
These things take time.”
Indeed they do. It is estimated in Israel that,
even were Her Majesty’s government truly to spring into belated action
immediately, there is little chance that its universal jurisdiction stipulation
could be critically amended before the middle or even the end of
The bottom line, then, is that for another year, if not longer, no
high-ranking Israelis – or even lower-rank reserve officers – will be able to
travel to Britain worryfree.
After the Almog incident, then-foreign
minister Livni announced a campaign “against this latest fad in the war against
But doubtless mollified by diplomatic promises of action, she
instituted nothing of substance to attest to Jerusalem’s outrage.
Behind-the-scenes interventions did take place to extricate individuals from
specific dangers of political show-trials, but the larger, overall, recurring
issue was not tackled.
It is highly unfortunate that Israel has had to
resort to substantive action now, attaching a specific penalty for the UK’s
ongoing failure to rectify the problem – a failure that lies heavily, too, with
the previous Labor government.
But the grotesque double-standard needs to
be confronted fearlessly and unequivocally. A continued failure by Israel to
demonstrate the untenability of the current situation would have come to be
regarded as an Israeli acknowledgement that its political and military
representatives were deserving of this shameful legal exposure, that Israel was
not too bothered to have its elected representatives and dedicated defenders
branded as international outlaws.
That was a misperception that Israel
has rightly now confronted. The sooner Britain confronts the problem, the more
quickly the strategic dialogue can be resumed.
William Hague is
thoroughly welcome here. His Israeli counterparts have the right to expect
precisely the same hospitality in the UK.