- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 16, 2009

JERUSALEM | Israel on Tuesday demanded that Britain change its law after reports that former Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni would have risked arrest on war-crimes charges over last year’s Gaza offensive had she not canceled a visit to London.

The legal jeopardy faced by Israeli politicians and military officers could damage Britain’s efforts to play a role in Middle East peacemaking, the Israeli Foreign Ministry said after British media reported that a magistrate had issued an arrest warrant for Mrs. Livni at the behest of attorneys acting for Palestinians in Gaza.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he rejected “this absurdity,” which was ultimately aimed at impairing Israel’s ability to defend itself.

Mr. Netanyahu’s national security adviser and the Foreign Ministry summoned the British ambassador to Israel for talks to convey their dismay. Britain said it was urgently looking into the implications of the case.

The warrant is the latest in a number of such incidents to make life uncomfortable for senior Israelis in Britain in recent years. It was withdrawn, British media said, after Mrs. Livni, now leader of the opposition, canceled plans to attend a meeting last weekend. The Israeli Foreign Ministry said: “A lack of immediate and decisive action to amend the anomalies harms relations between the two countries.

“If Israeli leaders cannot visit Britain in an appropriate and respectable manner, it will be a natural obstacle to Britain’s wish to fulfill an active role in the Middle East peace process.”

Mrs. Livni, whose low domestic profile has been given a boost by the controversy, brushed off the arrest warrant in a speech in Tel Aviv, in which she defended her actions in Gaza.

“Israel had to do the right thing - condemnation or no condemnation, statements or no statements, arrest warrants or no arrest warrants. This is the role of a leadership,” she said.

Last month, British Ambassador Tom Phillips told a group of Israelis concerned at what it called a sharp rise in hostility to the Jewish state in Britain that the government did not support court action against Israeli leaders, but was bound by existing laws.

He indicated that it was considering curbing courts’ powers to issue such warrants for the arrest of foreign officials. But he said Israel’s Gaza offensive a year ago, which prompted public dismay in Britain over the hundreds of Palestinian civilian deaths, had made it more difficult for the government to legislate for that.

International human rights bodies, including a commission set up by the United Nations, have said Israeli political and military officials should answer allegations of war crimes over the three-week offensive launched Dec. 27. More than 1,400 Palestinians died, while the toll on the Israel side was 13. Israel said it acted according to high military and moral standards during the war.

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