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Israeli officials postpone trip to UK over concerns about universal jurisdiction

Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon

Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon

The BBC is reporting:

Israel says it has postponed a visit to the United Kingdom by military officials amid fears of arrest.

Israeli officials complained that the UK government has failed to give it a complete guarantee that its officials will not be arrested on British soil.

They also said the current situation threatens relations with Britain.

In December former foreign minister Tzipi Livni cancelled a visit to London, after a British judge issued an arrest warrant.

“These officials were invited by Great Britain, but they will stay in Israel as long as we do not have a 100% guarantee that they will not become objects of criminal lawsuits in that country,” said Israel’s Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon.

Mr Ayalon said he will discuss the matter with Britain’s Attorney General, Baroness Scotland of Asthal, who is in Israel on a private visit.

Diplomatic row

Late last year a UK court issued a warrant for Tzipi Livni, sparking a diplomatic row. Ms Livni was foreign minister during Israel’s Gaza campaign last winter. It was the first time a UK court had issued a warrant for the arrest of a former Israeli minister.

The warrant was revoked after Ms Livni cancelled her trip, but Israeli officials reacted angrily.

Ms Livni said the court had been “abused” by the Palestinian plaintiffs who requested the warrant. “What needs to be put on trial here is the abuse of the British legal system,” she told the BBC.

Under British law, courts are allowed to issue warrants for alleged war crime suspects around the world. But Mr Ayalon said that the law is “often misused”.

“It initially targeted Nazi criminals, but terrorist organisations like Hamas are today using it to take democracies hostage. We have to put an end to this absurdity” he added.

The British government says it is looking into whether the law can be changed, to avoid further diplomatic embarrassment.

But a spokesman for the Palestinian government, speaking to BBC Jerusalem correspondent Tim Franks said it was important to follow new, “creative” ways of using international law against Israel.

Pro-Palestinian campaigners in the UK have tried several times to have Israeli officials arrested under the principle of universal jurisdiction.

This allows domestic courts in countries around the world to try war crimes suspects, even if the crime took place outside the country and the suspect is not a citizen.

Israel denies claims by human rights groups and the UN investigator Richard Goldstone that its forces committed war crimes during the operation, which it said was aimed at ending Palestinian rocket fire at its southern towns.

The Palestinian militant group Hamas has also been accused of committing war crimes during the conflict.

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Anthony Clark Arend is Professor of Government and Foreign Service at Georgetown University and the Director of the Master of Science in Foreign Service in the Walsh School of Foreign Service.

Commentary and analysis at the intersection of international law and politics.