TIMES ONLINE: Attorney General Baroness Scotland may block Israeli war crimes warrants January 6, 2010
The Israeli foreign ministry confirmed however that she met Danny Ayalon, Israelâs deputy foreign minister, who made clear his anger and concern.
Lady Scotland refused to be drawn on the specifics of any amendment when she delivered her lecture last night at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
âI shall not tonight be talking about the rights and wrongs of any individual case,â she told her audience.
âBut you will know that the Foreign Secretary has stated clearly that the Government is looking urgently at ways in which the UK system might be changed to avoid this situation arising again and is determined that Israel’s leaders should always be able to travel freely to the UK.â
Answering questions later, the Attorney General said there would be no dilution of Britainâs commitment to prosecute war criminals.
She added: âWe need to make sure that the process that we use to effectively prosecute is just that, effective, and not used for political or other purposes.â
Mr Ayalon told Lady Scotland that if the threat of arrest was not removed from visiting Israeli officials it would âmake it difficult for the two countries to maintain a normal relationship”.
He raised the issue of the cancelled military visit and pointed out that most Israeli citizens had served in the military and could be liable to arrest in Britain.
Mr Ayalon said in a radio interview: âThese officers were invited by Great Britain, but they will stay in Israel as long as we do not have a 100 percent guarantee that they will not become objects of criminal lawsuits in that country.
âIf the British law remains unchanged, this would undermine the good relations between the two countries who share common values and interests. The British must bear in mind that these visits serve both countries.
âOnly actions can put an end to this absurd situation, which would have seemed a comedy of errors were it not so serious.â
An official in the Israeli Foreign Ministry added that they were âconcernedâ that issue has not already been resolved in the month since Ms Livni had to cancel her trip to Britain.
The source said: âThe issue with Tzipi was back in December, and we have yet to see real movement on this intolerable situation. We understand that it has been the holiday season, but this is an issue that effectively bans our Israeli leaders from visiting the UK. It has huge consequences.â
But the Government is facing lobbying from Muslim groups and human rights organisations against any change to the legal position.
The Muslim Council of Britain has warned against âselective compliance with the enforcement of international lawâ which it claimed would âadd a further dimension to the double standards that our government is seen to have in relation to the politics of the Middle Eastâ.
Inayat Bunglawala of Muslims4UK said: âWe believe no attempt should be made [to change the law]. Thereâs no reason why Israel should be singled out for special treatment. If theyâre accused of war crimes, we have a duty – and legislation – to prosecute.â
The Hamas leadership of Gaza has said that it is assisting European lawyers and human rights groups in collecting data on alleged war crimes committed by Israel during the Gaza War.
A UN fact-finding mission led by Judge Richard Goldstone found that both Israel and Hamas had committed war crimes during the Gaza War. Some 1,400 Palestinians and 13 Israelis were killed during the 23-day offensive waged in late December 2008.
Dominic Grieve, the shadow Justice Secretary, said the Opposition would work with the Government to resolve the situation.
âThe Government has undertaken to address the issues surrounding arrest warrants for visiting foreign politicians or officials,â Mr Grieve said.
âWe will work with them to find the right balance between bringing genuine war criminals to justice, and preventing the criminal justice system from being manipulated for political ends.â