From The Telegraph U.K.
Tzipi Livni arrest warrant provokes Britain-Israel diplomatic row
Britain’s relations with Israel have been plunged into crisis after the Jewish state angrily denounced an attempt in London to arrest its former foreign minister, Tzipi Livni.
Published: 6:21PM GMT 15 Dec 2009
Tzipi Livni, the former Israeli foreign minister, cancelled a visit to Britain amid reports pro-Palestinian activist groups sought a warrant for her arrest on alleged war crimes charges.
The Israeli foreign ministry summoned Tom Phillips, the British ambassador to Tel Aviv, to protest at her treatment and give warning that diplomatic ties had been badly damaged.
Mrs Livni cancelled a trip to London over the weekend shortly before a court in Westminster granted a warrant for her arrest over alleged war crimes committed by the Israeli government during its offensive in Gaza a year ago.
The warrant is thought to have been issued after an application by pro-Palestinian lawyers but was later rescinded when it emerged that Mrs Livni, who is now leader of the Israeli opposition, had cancelled her trip to Britain.
Although a major diplomatic incident was averted, the affair has left Britain deeply embarrassed. The Foreign Office was forced to issue an apologetic statement that insisted Israeli officials were still welcome in the United Kingdom.
Refusing to be mollified, Israel said Britain faced being marginalised in the peace process unless it took immediate steps to strip courts of their powers to arrest Israeli dignitaries.
“The absence of firm and immediate action aimed to correct this abuse harms relations between Britain and Israel,” the Israeli foreign ministry said in a statement.
“If Israeli leaders cannot visit Britain in proper, dignified fashion, this will, quite naturally, seriously compromise Britain’s ability to play the active role in the Middle East peace process that it desires.”
Yuli Edelstein, a cabinet minister, added: “By a very small change of legislation, the issue could be at least controlled, if not totally wiped off the map. I think that it’s high time that the British parliament does something about it.”
A statement from prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office quoted the prime minister as rejecting the notion that leaders “who defended our civilians bravely and morally against a despicable and brutal enemy could be branded war criminals. We firmly reject this absurdity.”
Britain regularly attracts visits from both Israeli and Palestinian leaders who see London as an important diplomatic hub.
But according to Israeli officials, the government has repeatedly failed to live up to commitments made by both Tony Blair and Gordon Brown to curb the power of the courts either through legislation or regulation.
In recent years, activists have increasingly used British courts to pursue visiting Israeli officials they claim carried out war crimes in the Palestinian territories and in Lebanon.
In 2005, Doron Almog, a retired Israeli general, returned to Israel without leaving his plane after hearing an arrest warrant had been issued in his name. This September a court rejected a bid to seek an arrest warrant for Ehud Barak, the Israeli foreign minister, who had been invited to attend the Labour party conference.
“We don’t have similar problems with other European countries,” said a senior Israeli government official. “There is no doubt that extremist groups with very partisan agendas have successfully manipulated the British legal system.
“Every week in London, you have people visiting from countries undemocratic in the extreme and with atrocious human rights records, yet this happens to the leader of the Israeli opposition? That is a perversion of the British sense of fair play.”
Muslim cleric Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi has been allowed to visit Britain in the past despite describing Palestinian suicide bombers in Israel as “martyrs”. After one trip in 2004, the Crown Prosecution Service said there was not enough evidence to justify prosecuting him.
The latest row comes just days after Israel protested about a government advisory to UK supermarkets suggesting that they differentiate between West Bank imports according to whether they were produced by Jewish settlers or by Palestinians.
A government official denied that the series of confrontations amounted to a crisis, although he conceded that “it is a very tense period in diplomatic relations.”
The Israeli foreign ministry said it was not planning to advise politicians to cancel trips to Britain, although government officials said Mrs Livni’s arrest warrant could make many think twice about visiting Britain.
“We are facing a problem here and the problem is that it is very easy to harass and embarrass officials who try to visit Britain,” one said. “We can’t have Israeli officials systematically targeted and embarrassed.”