Livni meets with British FM after jurisdiction law change

First UK visit by senior Israeli official since repeal of war crimes law, which Livni says "clouded relations," Hague calls "appalling."

October 6, 2011 13:54
3 minute read.
Livni and Hague

Livni and Hague 311. (photo credit: Bicom)


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Landing in Britain Thursday morning, opposition leader Tzipi Livni became the first senior Israeli official to visit Britain since the controversial universal jurisdiction law, used by activists to obtain arrest warrants for alleged war crimes, was changed.

Meeting with British Foreign Minister William Hague, Livni said, "We are not talking about a personal matter, but an issue that has clouded relations between our countries for years, and Britain has done well in ending it."

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Hague said he was "delighted" to be able to meet with Livni.

“It was an appalling situation when political abuse of our legal procedures prevented people like Ms. Livni from traveling legitimately to the UK. We have dealt with this urgently as we promised to on coming to office," said Hague.

The UK foreign minister said the meeting showed “the warmth and strength” of the Israeli-British relationship.

“Israel is an important ally and we will continue to work together to face common threats such as the Iranian nuclear program,” he said.

In her meetings, which Livni referred to as a "test case" for the new legal status quo, the Kadima leader thanked Britain for its help fighting Iran's nuclear program and discussed Palestinian diplomatic efforts at the UN.

"A Palestinian state will not be established in the UN and their efforts in the UN will not end the conflict," Livni said.  She urged the Palestinians to "return to the negotiating table as soon as possible to create an arrangement that will ensure Israel's security."

Last month, the British government approved a change to the jurisdiction law, which had allowed private complaints of war crimes to be lodged against military personnel and other officials, even if they were not British citizens and the alleged crimes were committed elsewhere.

The legislative change means that the director of public prosecutions will now be required to give his consent for an arrest warrant to be issued on the grounds of universal jurisdiction.

“This visit by the Israeli leader of the opposition marks the end of a long, absurd period in which the vital dialogue between Israel and the UK was obstructed,” a spokesman for the Israeli Embassy in London said on Wednesday.

“No longer will extremists be able to abuse British law as a political tool. I hope this legal correction will pave the way for even deeper cooperation between the two states on strategic issues of mutual concern.”

Livni was foreign minister during the Second Lebanon War in 2006 and Operation Cast Lead in December 2008- January 2009. Later in 2009, she was forced to cancel a trip to the UK, where she was to address a Jewish National Fund conference in London, after an arrest warrant was issued. The incident caused embarrassment for the British government.

Just after the Conservative Party came into government in May 2010, Foreign Minister William Hague told The Jerusalem Post that it was “completely unacceptable” that Israeli officials feel they could not visit the UK.

Last month the change to the law went through Parliament.

“Ms. Livni is coming to the UK at a critical moment for the Middle East,” a Foreign Office spokesman told the Post.

Gil Hoffman contributed to this report.

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