Embarrassment at FO over Tzipi Livni arrest warrant
If Livni had come to London on Sunday, she could have been arrested over Gaza war crimes
One of Israel's most senior opposition politicians, Tzipi Livni, might have been arrested on a warrant for war crimes had she visited London last weekend as had been mooted. In the event, she did not come and the arrest warrant, issued by Westminster magistrates' court, was withdrawn.
News of the warrant, issued because of Mrs Livni's involvement in the Israeli bombardment of Gaza nearly a year ago when she was foreign minister, has caused deep embarrassment at the British Foreign Office, which was forced to issue a statement denying that it had played any part in the affair.
"The UK is determined to do all it can to promote peace in the Middle East and to be a strategic partner of Israel," said the FO statement. "To do this, Israel's leaders need to be able to come to the UK for talks with the British government. We are looking urgently at the implications of this case."
Mrs Livni leads the centrist Kadima party and narrowly missed becoming the Israeli prime minister in March this year. According to a report in the Guardian, the warrant was issued at the request of lawyers representing Palestinian victims of the invasion of Gaza, in which more than 1,400 Palestinian died in the period December 2008 - January 2009.
As Ehud Olmert's foreign minister, Livni (pictured above with Olmert) was a member of the Israel war cabinet that took the decision to invade Gaza in response to Hamas rocket attacks on Israeli civilians. There were complaints from human rights campaigners across the world at the time - and since - that the Israeli response was disproportionate and that the employment by the Israelis of various tactics and weapons - especially the alleged use of white phosphorous shells - went against the spirit of the Geneva Convention.
The Westminster court appears to have issued the warrant based on information that Livni was in Britain to address the Jewish National Fund UK's annual conference on Sunday. When it transpired that she had not come, the warrant was withdrawn.
According to the Jerusalem Post Livni declined the invitation to speak because she was unable to get a meeting with Prime Minister Gordon Brown. Instead she spoke to the conference via video link. The Post claimed there was no question of Livni cancelling her trip because she feared being arrested.
The warrant - or aborted warrant - marks the first time that a serving Israeli minister or former minister has faced arrest in Britain. It illustrates an increasing effort among human rights lawyers to pursue alleged war criminals under "universal jurisidiction".
It also comes at a time of growing anticipation that Tony Blair could be indicted for war crimes over the invasion of Iraq, in the light of evidence coming out of the Chilcot Inquiry, and after Blair's own admission in a BBC interview on Sunday that he would have gone to war to topple Saddam Hussein regardless of the WMDs issue.
The Guardian quoted a pro-Palestinian group welcoming news of the abortive move against Livni as "long overdue".
Despite the international condemnation, Livni has remained bullish ever since the Gaza ceasefire that Israel had the right to invade because of the Hamas rocket attacks. She even said in September that she was prepared to stand trial at the International Court of Justice in The Hague to defend the actions of the Israeli military.
"There have already been petitions against me in various countries," Livni said. "I was a partner to the decisions in the operation in Gaza... I believe in the morality of the IDF soldiers, and if they try to indict me, I am prepared to come say such things if necessary."
One mystery remains: why was it so important for Livni to get a meeting with Gordon Brown? Was it to justify her trip - or did she believe it might protect her in the event of an arrest?
The Guardian reports that, according to Israeli sources, ministers who wish to visit the UK in a personal capacity have begun asking the Israeli embassy in London to arrange meetings with British officials. These offer legal protection against arrest.
However, the understanding is that this immunity would only apply to a serving minister, not a former one. So Livni - and, for that matter, Ehud Olmert - would not be protected, even if they had an appointment in town with the Prime Minister. ·
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