‘Inability to protect officials halting UK-Israel dialogue'

Officials in J’lem tell Hague more must be done over universal jurisdiction legislation; Hague meets with Fayyad, Palestinian activists.

William Hague with white sides 311 (photo credit: Associated Press)
William Hague with white sides 311
(photo credit: Associated Press)
Britain’s failure to change its laws regarding universal jurisdiction has effectively halted bilateral dialogue with Israel, officials in Jerusalem told visiting British Foreign Secretary William Hague on Wednesday.
As the situation stands, Israeli officials who land in the United Kingdom risk detention based on complaints of war crimes lodged by pro-Palestinian groups, Foreign Ministry officials told the visiting British delegation.
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What this means in practice is that Israeli officials or ministers can not visit England, a Foreign Ministry official told The Jerusalem Post after the meeting.
Without such visits, it is impossible to conduct a bilateral relationship that includes holding the strategic dialogue necessary to combat terror, the official said. “Why would they go, if they can not return home safely?” he asked.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor said that Israel’s relationship with Britain was “very good” but the existing law “makes it impossible to conduct dialogue at the highest level.”
The fact that Hague landed in Israel Tuesday night, just one day after Deputy Prime Minister Dan Meridor had to cancel a trip to London, only served to underscore this point for Israeli officials. Earlier this year, opposition leader Tzipi Livni also pulled out of a trip to Britain.
“This issue of detention by Israeli officials is the top item on our agenda,” said Palmor.
Hague assured his counterpart, Avigdor Lieberman, that his government was committed to changing the legislation before the end of this parliamentary session.
“It is important that Israeli politicians are able to visit the UK,” Hague told reporters in Jerusalem, noting that the British parliament is working to change the law so that a “universal jurisdiction” arrest “would have to be one that had a reasonable prospect of prosecution, so that it is not used for trivial or political reasons.” Britain and Israel are also at odds over the issue of new settlement construction, which Hague believes should be halted to advance the peace process.
In Ramallah on Wednesday, Hague met with his Palestinian Authority counterpart, Dr. Riyad al-Malki, and Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, who briefed him on the latest developments surrounding the peace process and the situation in the PA, Palestinian sources said.
Fayyad discussed the “dangers threatening the future of the peace process as a result of Israel’s continued practices and violations, especially the ongoing construction in the settlements and incursions.” Fayyad also reaffirmed the importance of the EU in helping achieve peace in the Middle East. He also briefed the British minister on his efforts to build state institutions and thanked the British government for providing financial aid to the Palestinians.
While in Ramallah, Hague met with activists from the villages of al- Ma’asara and Ni’ilin, whose residents, together with extreme leftists from Israel and abroad, hold regular protests against the security barrier and continued settlement growth.
He also spoke with representatives of the Holy Land Trust, a pro-Palestinian organization in Bethlehem that promotes the use of non-violent strategies.
Activists in the meeting reported that Hague said he supported the group’s non-violent struggle.
Iran’s growing nuclear threat was also high on Hague’s agenda. He held a round-table discussion with Israeli security officials and ministers Wednesday morning.
“We have given a lot of attention to the Iranian nuclear program,” Hague told President Shimon Peres when he met with him in Jerusalem later in the day.
Similarly, he told Peres, his country has also been concerned with the situation in Sudan, Lebanon and Yemen.
“There are so many issues on which, as a security council member, we have to be very active to prevent future conflict,” he said.
Peres responded that behind “what is happening in Lebanon and Yemen, you will find an Iranian finger. They are aggressive and do not respect the law,” he said.
Hague took time to visit the Schalit protest tent outside Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s home in Jerusalem as well.
He called on Hamas to release Gilad Schalit, who has been held captive by that group for 1592 days.
“The fact that Gilad Schalit is still being held without any access to humanitarian organizations tells you all you need to know about Hamas. If they want to join the West and be part of us, they must release him immediately.”
Hague took advantage of his visit to sign a Film Co-production Agreement with Israel at the Foreign Ministry. He signed a similar one with the Palestinians in Ramallah. It is the first bilateral agreement Britain has signed with the Palestinians.
At a dinner on Wednesday evening at the residence of British Ambassador Matthew Gould, Hague announced the formation of a new top level UKIsrael Life Sciences Council, which aims to take scientific cooperation between the two countries to new heights.
When Gould presented his credentials to Peres last month, he told him that one of his key objectives was to intensify bilateral scientific cooperation.
With this in mind, the dinner was also a vehicle for announcing the recipients of grants in energy and environment studies awarded by BIRAX, the British-Israel Research and Academic Exchange Program which is largely funded by the UK-based Pears Foundation, United Jewish Israel Appeal and the British and Israeli governments.
The Pears Foundation invests in programs that promote respect and understanding between individuals of different backgrounds. This year it established the Pears Institute for the Study of Anti-Semitism at Birbeck College at the University of London.
Hague’s arrival late Tuesday night marked the first high-ranking visit by a member of the Cameron led government since it came into power in May.
He is expected to meet Thursday with Netanyahu before leaving for Egypt.
Greer Fay Cashman, Khaled Abu Toameh and AP contributed to this report.