Israel postpones UK strategic dialogue over war crimes law
Israel has postponed all strategic dialogue with Britain in protest at a law which allows British courts to prosecute visiting Israeli officials for alleged war crimes, officials said Wednesday.
Strategic dialogue between the two countries takes place annually and focuses on defence and security issues.
"The strategic dialogue has indeed been postponed," foreign ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor told AFP shortly after British Foreign Secretary William Hague arrived for a two-day visit.
"The visit by Foreign Minister Hague is an important phase in the ongoing exchange between the countries and the question of Israeli officials being unable to travel to Britain will be on the top of the agenda as far as we are concerned," he said.
The law in question gives British courts "universal jurisdiction" to issue warrants against individuals accused of war crimes, including visiting foreign politicians.
Earlier this week Israel's Intelligence Minister Dan Meridor cancelled a trip to London over general concerns he risked being arrested, with local media speculating it was in connection with Israel's deadly raid on a Gaza-bound aid flotilla in May.
Britain's embassy in Tel Aviv confirmed that the government was taking the issue very seriously and said that a draft amendment to the law would be put before parliament "in the coming weeks."
"The British government understands that we have a real problem and we are dealing with it," spokeswoman Karen Kaufman told AFP, saying it would take "several months" before any amendment was passed.
"We will present a draft (amendment) in the coming weeks with the goal of passing it in this current sitting of parliament."
This year's strategic dialogue meeting, which had been expected to take place in Britain last month, did not happen, a diplomatic source said. But a spokesman for the prime minister's office refused to comment on the issue, saying: "We don't talk about strategic dialogue. It's a sensitive issue."
Kaufman said Britain remained "committed to the strategic dialogue with Israel" and is "currently discussing dates with the Israeli foreign ministry."
Israel has been pushing for Britain to amend the legislation for five years after a number of high-profile political and military officials were forced to cancel visits over arrest fears.
In January, Britain's then Labour prime minister Gordon Brown pledged to change the law after Israeli opposition leader Tzipi Livni, who was foreign minister during the 2008-9 Gaza war, cancelled a trip after a warrant for her arrest was issued, provoking a diplomatic spat.
In an interview with the top-selling daily Yediot Aharonot to coincide with his first visit to Israel as foreign secretary, Hague said it would be prudent for Israeli officials to wait for the law to be amended before visiting Britain.
"I think it would be wise to first pass this law and then invite them," he told the paper.
Hague arrived in Israel very late on Tuesday for talks which were expected to focus on helping Israel and the Palestinians break the deadlock in peace negotiations.
Talks were suspended in late September after the expiry of a moratorium on Jewish settlement building in the occupied West Bank.
Israel has refused to reimpose the moratorium, while the Palestinians say they will not hold talks while settlers are building on Palestinian land, prompting a flurry of diplomatic efforts to break the impasse.
© 2010 AFP