Now it is the UK’s turn. Israel’s foreign ministry has repeated its history of embarrassing ministers and officials visiting its country. The UK’s foreign secretary, William Hague, is on an official visit to Israel. He is also slated to visit the occupied territories. On the very first day of Mr. Hague’s visit, an Israeli foreign ministry spokesperson said Israel was postponing “strategic dialogue” with Britain. The UK and Israel have been conducting strategic dialogue over defense and security issues for several years.
This is not the first time Israel has humiliated visiting foreign officials. Prominent examples in the recent past were the US’ Vice President Joe Biden’s visit in March 2010 and the summoning of Turkey’s envoy over a Turkish TV series. Both incidents caused major problems for Israel. Though an Israeli spokesperson denied that the latest development was a deliberate one, it said the same in Joe Biden’s issue. But so far, Britain’s response has been too mild to mention.
Joe Biden’s Visit
In the second week of March when the Vice President of the US, Joe Biden, was going to visit Israel to bring momentum to indirect talks between Palestinians and Israelis, Israel announced the construction of 1,600 new homes in East Jerusalem, an occupied territory. The timing of that announcement called into question the very integrity of the US initiative on the Middle East peace process.
US President Barack Obama described the announcement that overshadowed Biden’s visit to Israel as destructive to peace talks and an “insult” to the US government. Israel’s ambassador to the US, Michael Oren, was summoned and reprimanded about the affair. Mr. Oren said then that Israel’s ties with the US were at their lowest and in the most serious crisis since 1975.
Turkish envoy to Israel, Ahmet Celikkol, was summoned over a Turkish television series in October 2009 that showed Israeli security forces kidnapping Palestinian children and killing elders during the Gaza attack. The same was acknowledged by the UNHRC-commissioned Goldstone’s report on the Gaza attack. But Israel was infuriated over the television series and summoned the Turkish ambassador without informing him that he was to be reprimanded. Mr. Celikkol came to know about the reprimand only after arriving for the meeting and seeing the press and TV reporters.
Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon told the reporters in Hebrew during the televised meeting, “Pay attention [to the fact] that he is sitting in a lower chair…that there is only an Israeli flag on the table and that we are not smiling.” Turkey became furious at the diplomatic slight and demanded an official apology from Israel. Mr. Ayalon issued a statement offering a semi-apology, but Turkey rejected it.
Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu sent a letter to Turkey on January 13 offering his formal apology to Turkey. With that the particular issue came to an end but the relations between the two countries continued to weaken further with Israel’s air raid over the Turkish aid flotilla to Gaza, which killed eleven people even though the flotilla was still in international waters.
Britain has a law on war crimes that relies on the principle of universal jurisdiction, which means that foreigners can be arrested in the UK for alleged crimes committed abroad. Pro-Palestinian campaigners have tried several times to get Israeli officials arrested for war crimes committed in the Gaza war. Arrest warrants were issued for several Israeli officials and ministers. Some of them are:
- A London court issued an arrest warrant for former Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni in December 2009 at the request of a Palestinian lawyer. It was later canceled after it was learned that she was not visiting the UK.
- Israel’s Deputy Prime Minister Dan Meridor was forced to cancel his visit to London earlier this week (November 1), after the British Foreign Office and Ministry of Justice warned him he could face an arrest warrant from pro-Palestinian activists for alleged war crimes.
- The Israeli minister and former chief of staff of IDF, Moshe Ya’alon, who was involved in the killing of Hamas leader Salah Shehadeh and 14 civilians in July 2002, had to cancel his visit to London after he was warned by the Israeli Foreign Ministry that he could face arrest for war crimes. He faced a warrant issued by a New Zealand court for the same reason. The court there said that New Zealand had an obligation to uphold the Geneva Convention.
- In the first week of January 2010 a group of IDF officers ranking from major to colonel cancelled their visit to the UK to participate in talks about military cooperation after learning that they could be arrested for war crimes. Although they demanded a guarantee of safety, because of the law British officials could not give one.
- An Israeli general, Doron Almog, escaped arrest in Heathrow Airport for a private prosecution by not leaving the plane in which he had travelled to London in 2005.
- Israel’s Defense Minister Ehud Barak also escaped arrest when he was visiting Britain in October 2009, as he possessed diplomatic immunity as a serving minister.
Amending the Law
However, the present British coalition government has told Israel they are moving quickly to amend the law to enable Israeli officials and ministers to visit Britain without fear of being arrested. In the past, an attempt had been made to hand over the power of approving arrest warrants issued by the courts to the Attorney General before they were carried out. It did not succeed because of fierce protest by lawyers.Powered by Sidelines