Hague: We’ll amend universal jurisdiction within a year

Visiting British FM vows to make it safe for Israeli officials to travel to UK; urges settlement freeze, vows to confront Iran nuclear threat.

William Hague with white sides 311 (photo credit: Associated Press)
William Hague with white sides 311
(photo credit: Associated Press)
British Foreign Secretary William Hague publicly promised on Thursday to make it safe for Israeli leaders and IDF officers to land in London without risking detention based on complaints of war crimes.
Fearing such detention as a result of Britain’s universal jurisdiction law, senior Israeli figures, including opposition leader Tzipi Livni and Deputy Prime Minister Dan Meridor, have canceled trips to Britain.
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“We are acting to correct [universal jurisdiction], as everyone should well know. I was critical of the outgoing Labor government for not correcting it,” Hague told Channel 10 in an interview taped during his two-day visit to the country.
He promised the law would be changed within the next year, but asked Israel not to pressure his government to move faster than the parliamentary process would allow.
“This is a parliamentary system, and the government does not control all that,” Hague said.
“I would expect it to be in place next year, but we will continue to do it to our own timetable. We do not need any intervention by other foreign ministers in that process, including the Israeli one,” he said.
Already on Wednesday, Foreign Ministry officials noted that bilateral relations had been directly affected, because Israeli officials could not safely travel to London.
They added that this included the strategic dialogue.
On Thursday, the Prime Minister’s Office stated that another informal meeting on strategic issues would soon be held in Israel.
It would not respond to an AP report that the meeting had been moved from London to Israel because of universal jurisdiction.
The Prime Minister’s Office said it “welcomed the explicit commitment of the British government to amend the law on universal jurisdiction.”
Publicly the Prime Minister’s Office spoke in positive terms of Hague’s visit, which concluded with a meeting Thursday with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu.
Hague is the first high-level British official to arrive in Israel since the Cameron-led government took office last May.
During the visit, a number of cooperative agreements were signed with regard to film, science and the environment.
But behind the scenes, officials spoke bitterly of the United Kingdom’s failure to amend the universal jurisdiction law.
An Israeli official noted that officials from three British governments – David Cameron’s, Gordon Brown’s and Tony Blair’s – had all promised Israel that it would change the law.
As it stands now, officials said, the law can be “politically manipulated and abused” by those who hate Israel.
Every day, representatives from nations across the globe land in London, including those who represent regimes with atrocious human rights records, the officials said. “Why is it that only Israelis have trouble?” one official asked.
Universal jurisdiction was not the only point of tension between Hague and Israeli officials.
He discussed allegations that the Mossad used forged British passports when it allegedly orchestrated the assassination of a Hamas leader in Dubai.
In his Channel 10 interview, Hague also said that Israel’s continued “blockade of Gaza was unsustainable.”
And he called on Israel to renew its moratorium on new settlement construction.
“We want to see the peace talks back on track,” he said, warning that if that didn’t happen, the window of opportunity for peace might soon close.
Still, Hague spoke out strongly against boycotts of Israel and attempts to delegitimize it, and stressed the UK’s opposition to such efforts.
As a member of the UN Security Council, Britain has been involved in pressing for sanctions against Iran, and that country’s nuclear threat was part of Hague’s discussion with the Israelis.
There is a strong international consensus for sanctions against Iran, and that is the preferred method of dealing with its nuclear threat, Hague said. He made clear, however, that the threat of military action had not been taken off the table.
The Iranian nuclear drive “is one of the major threats to the peace of the world, and we have to confront it,” he declared.
The Prime Minister’s Office said that “Israel and Britain maintain very close ties on strategic issues, particularly on the Iranian issue.”