Analysis: Most ministers would face arrest in UK

Analysis Most ministers

Kadima Party leader Tzipi Livni is not the only one, or even one of a select few, who face the near-certainty of arrest should they make the mistake of visiting England. According to former Foreign Ministry legal adviser Allan Baker, two of every three ministers in the cabinet would also likely be arrested and detained in a British jail if they did the same. Britain is one of several west European countries that have passed laws granting it international jurisdiction - that is, the right to try anyone suspected of violating various provisions of international law, no matter where the alleged crimes were committed or the citizenship of the suspect. Israel first tasted the sting of international jurisdiction in 2001, when a warrant was issued in Belgium for the arrest of former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, former army Chief-of-Staff Raphael Eitan and former head of IDF Northern Command, Amos Yaron, for their alleged roles in the 1982 Sabra and Shatila massacres in Beirut by Christian militiamen. The charges were eventually dropped, and Belgium changed its law to make it more difficult to apply universal jurisdiction. But the threat remains in other countries. In 2005, former head of IDF Southern Command Doron Almog narrowly escaped arrest when he was advised to remain on board the plane that had brought him to London and immediately return to Israel. Another, more recent case involved Spain, which issued warrants for the arrest of seven Israelis involved in the bombing of an apartment building in Gaza City which killed Hamas military leader Salah Shehadeh, his aide, and 13 civilians, and wounded 150. In September a warrant for the arrest of Defense Minister Ehud Barak was issued in London for his role in Operation Cast Lead. The court refused to hear the case on the grounds that Barak enjoyed diplomatic immunity. Livni would almost certainly not have been as lucky as Barak had she not cancelled her travel plans at the last minute. Israel has tried to fight the threat of universal jurisdiction on two fronts - legal and diplomatic. On the legal front, Foreign Ministry and other officials have tried to persuade the various countries to change their laws. Baker said that he went to England to talk to Foreign Office officials before a planned visit by Sharon. The officials promised that Parliament would change the law to make it more difficult to detain and try Israeli leaders. According to the current situation, any British lawyer representing clients may go to court and ask for an arrest warrant against a foreign leader whom they accuse of international law violations. If the judge is satisfied that the allegations are substantial, he will issue the warrant and put the suspect on trial. Baker said that the officials with whom he spoke promised to add an amendment to the law that would call for the attorney-general to approve the warrant. However, this has not happened and the law has not been changed. Baker added that in the increasingly hostile climate toward Israel today, the chances that the British Parliament would pass such legislation are even smaller. In 2005, after the Almog affair, the government took its first steps to combat the threat of international jurisdiction. It established teams of lawyers in the "danger" countries to immediately represent any Israeli official against whom an arrest warrant was issued. Meanwhile, in Jerusalem, the Justice Ministry began to provide advice to Israelis who were considering visiting western Europe. Only last week, the Justice Ministry announced the appointment of attorney Roi Schiendorf to head a special task force assigned to deal with legal procedures involving Israelis abroad. The aim of the task force is to centralize the government's handling of all the legal aspects of the problem.