Livni set to visit UK after jurisdiction law changed

Opposition leader will become first Israeli official to visit Britain since law allowing citizens to bring war crimes charges curtailed.

October 6, 2011 02:36
3 minute read.
Tzipi Livni at a live Q&A session, Sunday.

tzipi livni_311. (photo credit: Idan Gross )


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LONDON – Opposition leader Tzipi Livni is expected to arrive in London on Thursday, becoming 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.

Last month, the British government approved a change to the law, which previously 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.

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The law was used by anti- Israel activists who could apply to a magistrate for an arrest warrant. The 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.

Then-foreign minister David Miliband said at the time that Israel was a “strategic partner” and “close friend” whose leaders should be allowed to travel freely to the UK and meet the British government.

“The procedure by which arrest warrants can be sought and issued without any prior knowledge or advice by a prosecutor is an unusual feature of the system in the UK,” Miliband said at the time.

“The government is looking urgently at ways in which the system might be changed to avoid this arising again.”

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.

Livni will be the guest of the foreign minister and though not confirmed, is scheduled to meet with Prime Minister David Cameron.

“Ms. Livni is coming to the UK at a critical moment for the Middle East. The foreign secretary is looking forward to discussing a range of issues from the Middle East peace process to the impact of recent events in the region,” a Foreign Office spokesman told the Post.

A protest by anti-Israel activists against both the change in the law and Livni’s visit is set to take place on Thursday near the prime minister’s residence at 10 Downing Street in central London. A counter-demonstration to take place at the same time is being organized by the Zionist Federation of the UK.

New Labor leader Shelly Yacimovich met Wednesday with Miliband, who lost the leadership of the British Labor Party to his brother, Ed.

According to her spokesman, they spoke about Yacimovich’s social-democratic agenda and its connection to diplomatic issues.

Gil Hoffman contributed to this report.

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