'Britain failed us on arrest warrant loophole'

Britain failed us on ar

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December 18, 2009 00:12
3 minute read.

 
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Israeli officials expressed frustration on Thursday that Britain let Israel down by never plugging the legal loophole allowing for arrest warrants against Israeli officials, even though Israel took into account British concerns and reached a settlement with the family of British filmmaker James Miller, allegedly killed by an IDF soldier in 2003. Israeli government sources said that the two issues were often raised together in the same conversation between diplomatic officials, even though they were never formally linked. The sources said that during these conversations, Israeli officials would push their British counterparts to act decisively on the arrest warrant issue, and the British would always say that they expected the Miller case to be concluded satisfactorily. The sources added that in diplomatic conversations dealing with outstanding legal issues, each side would raise what was most sensitive to them. The officials said that while there was no "package deal" as such, Israel was frustrated that while the Miller case was concluded, the arrest-warrant issue had not yet gone away. Israel reached a large financial settlement with Miller's family in January, paying a sum believed to be about £1.5 million ($2.2m.). A spokesman for Miller's family said in January that a settlement had been reached, and that "this is the nearest they are likely to get to an admission of guilt by the Israeli government." In May 2003, Miller, 34, was in Rafah shooting footage for a documentary, when he was shot and killed. A Beduin officer, who allegedly fired the shot, was cleared by a court martial in 2008, despite a military court recommendation that harsh disciplinary action be taken against him. In April 2006, a British coroner's inquest concluded that Miller's death was murder. A British Foreign Office spokeswoman welcomed the agreement in January and said that if it was satisfactory to the family, the British government would consider the case closed. A spokesman at the British Embassy in Tel Aviv said on Thursday evening there was never a quid pro quo linkage between the Miller case and the arrest-warrant issue, or a promise that if one issue was settled, the other would be settled as well. The Guardian, meanwhile, reported on Thursday that under a plan being negotiated in the Foreign Office, the British attorney-general would from now on be asked to approve warrants before suspected war criminals could be arrested in the future. According to the paper, discussions have begun in Whitehall to create "safeguards" in criminal cases against visiting foreign leaders. A senior Foreign Office source was quoted as saying, "No one is talking about removing universal jurisdiction, but it's an anomaly that a magistrate's court can issue an arrest warrant before a prosecutor has even said there is a case to prosecute. There need to be safeguards." One Israeli diplomatic official said it was up to the British to decide how to close the legal loophole that has led to the harassment of Israeli leaders, and that all that concerned Jerusalem was that Israeli leaders could travel to Britain without fearing arrest. Another official said that while in the past British government officials argued that legislation to close the loophole would never pass Parliament, the fallout from the arrest warrant involving Kadima head Tzipi Livni had created an atmosphere where Prime Minister Gordon Brown and Foreign Secretary David Miliband could now likely get the legislation passed. The official said that had an arrest warrant been issued against "just another general," little probably would have changed. But because Livni was well-known and accepted in Britain, considered as someone pushing for a two-state solution, and a woman, there was a degree of discomfort inside Britain that did not exist in other cases over the last five years where Israeli generals or leaders were threatened with arrest warrants.

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