Britain working to change arrest law, Hague says

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

JERUSALEM/RAMALLAH - The British government is working to change a law which has seen Israeli officials threatened with lawsuits in Britain, visiting British Foreign Secretary William Hague said in Ramallah Wednesday.

“We will soon be putting a proposal to change the law,” he told a joint news conference with Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad.

But, he added, “we will do that in our way and on our timetable.”

The “universal jurisdiction” law lays down that people can be prosecuted for crimes committed abroad. Pro-Palestinian organisations in Britain have used the law to try get arrest warrants issued against visiting Israeli officials, forcing several to cancel scheduled visits to Britain.

The most recent was Deputy Prime Minister Dan Meridor, who cancelled a trip to London, this week, for fear he would be arrested for war crimes.

Israeli Foreign Ministry Spokesman Yigal Palmor said Wednesday that the strategic dialogue between Israel and Britain would be postponed until the law was changed.

He told DPA that the jurisdiction law would top the agenda of Hague’s talks with Israeli officials and said Israel had received promises by the previous British government, and by the current one, that the law would be altered.

Israel expected Hague to outline what steps were being taken in this regard, he said.

“It is a real problem when Israeli officials cannot travel to Britain, and so long as the problem exists, it will harm relations between the two countries,” Palmor said.

Hague, in an interview published Wednesday in the Israeli Yediot Ahronoth daily, admitted that “we have a real problem and we recognise it”.

A statement issued after Hague met Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman quoted the foreign secretary as reiterating “the UK government’s commitment to urgently resolve the ‘unacceptable situation’ with regard to universal jurisdiction.

The foreign secretary, making his first visit to Israel and the Palestinian territories since taking office in May, urged Israel at the Ramallah news conference to extend a freeze on construction at its West Bank settlements, so that direct peace talks could resume.

Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations, renewed only at the beginning of September, are currently in limbo after Israel refused to extend a 10-month partial settlement construction freeze.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has said the talks will not resume until and unless Israel renews the building moratorium.

While in Ramallah, Hague signed a treaty for cooperation between Palestinian and British filmmakers in cinema production, the second with an Arab country after Morocco.

He signed a similar cooperation agreement with Israel when he met his Israeli counterpart Lieberman.

Hague arrived in Israel Tuesday night for a two-day visit. In addition to his meetings with Israeli and Palestinian officials, he was also slated to hold a closed discussion at the home of the British ambassador on Iran’s nuclear programme.

will not be displayed