Israel cuts off special dialogue with Britain

JERUSALEM—Israel has suspended a special strategic dialogue with London as long as Israeli officials visiting Britain face possible arrest for suspected war crimes against Palestinians, officials said Wednesday.

The announcement came as British Foreign Secretary William Hague met with senior Israeli officials Wednesday in Jerusalem. Officials from both countries said the matter would be high on the agenda of Hague’s visit, and the British Foreign Office said it was working to resolve the matter.

The two countries announced the dialogue two years ago to boost relations. But Israel put them on hold at the beginning of the year after former Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni canceled a trip to London for fear of arrest.

A number of Israeli officials have been threatened with possible prosecution in Britain under the law of “universal jurisdiction,” which contends that crimes against humanity are so egregious that they can be prosecuted even if they were not committed in the United Kingdom.

Pro-Palestinian activists have used the concept to file lawsuits against Israeli officials to punish them for Israeli military operations against Palestinians.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor said Israel’s relations with Britain are “very good,” but the existing law “makes it impossible to conduct dialogue at the highest levels.”

British courts have issued arrest warrants for Israeli officials, and though no one has been arrested, the repeated attempts to prosecute have strained ties between Britain and Israel.

The fear of arrest has prompted a number of Israeli political and military officials to cancel trips to the U.K. On Monday, Israeli Deputy Prime Minister Dan Meridor became the latest, backing out of a planned speech to a pro-Israel British group after being advised that he risked arrest.

Palmor said the threat of prosecution is at the top of Israel’s agenda for discussion with the British foreign secretary.

“We have a real problem and we have recognized it,” Hague said in an interview with the Israeli daily Yediot Ahronot. “But because this is a parliamentary system, we need a few months to pass a new law.”

The British parliament discussed the issue of “mischievous arrest warrants” in July and will soon propose a bill to amend the law, according to Britain’s Foreign Office.

“We remain committed to the strategic dialogue with Israel and have an ongoing dialogue on a whole range of issues including Iran,” the statement read.

British Embassy spokeswoman Karen Kaufman confirmed that Hague is discussing the matter with his Israeli counterparts, and said British officials were discussing possible dates for the next strategic dialogue meeting.

With Israeli-Palestinian peace talks stalled, British officials said Hague would stand firm on British criticism of West Bank settlements. He planned to tell Israeli leaders that the “window for a two-state solution is closing” and that the U.S.-led peace process is the best possibility for the two sides to hold talks, British officials said.

The latest round of talks, launched at the White House in September, quickly broke down over Israeli settlement construction in the West Bank. The Palestinians say there is no point in negotiating if Israel continues to build homes for Jews on the territory the Palestinians claim for a future state. Israel refuses to extend a just-expired settlement slowdown and says the issue should be resolved through negotiations.

The British Foreign Secretary’s two-day trip to the region includes meetings with Israeli and Palestinian leaders. Hague is also slated to sign treaties on co-production in the film industry with both sides.

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