Israel Halts 'Special Strategic Dialogue' With Britain to Protest Arrest Warrants

British universal jurisdiction empowers judges to issue arrest warrants for nearly any visitor accused of war crimes anywhere in the world; visiting Foreign Secretary William Hague wants law changed, embassy says.

Israel has canceled its special strategic dialogue with London to protest a law that enables Britain to arrest visiting Israeli officials for alleged war crimes, officials in Jerusalem said Wednesday.

The move was announced during British Foreign Secretary William Hague's two-day visit to the region.

David Cameron Benjamin Netanyahu
Mati Milstein

"The strategic dialogue has indeed been postponed," Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor told AFP. "The visit by Foreign Minister Hague is an important phase in the ongoing exchange between the countries and the question of Israeli officials being unable to travel to Britain will be on the top of the agenda as far as we are concerned."

Britain is one of the European pioneers of universal jurisdiction, a broad legal concept that empowers judges to issue arrest warrants for nearly any visitor accused of committing war crimes anywhere in the world.

Pro-Palestinian activists have sought to use this concept to press charges against Israelis involved in military operations in Palestinian territories, particularly since last year's Israeli offensive in the Gaza Strip. British officials have vowed to change the law.

A diplomatic source said that the annual strategic dialogue - launched two years ago to boost relations - broke off at the beginning of the year and did not take place last month as planned.

Karen Kaufman, spokeswoman for the British Embassy in Tel Aviv, said that the issue would be raised during Hague's visit. "The British government understands that we have a real problem and we are dealing with it," she said, adding that Hague has expressed interest in changing the British law.

Deputy Prime Minister Dan Meridor earlier this week became the latest Israeli official to cancel a visit to Britain for fear of arrest.

Last spring, pro-Palestinian activists persuaded a London judge to issue an arrest warrant for Kadima leader Tzipi Livni, who was foreign minister during the war in Gaza last year. The warrant was withdrawn after Livni canceled her trip, but the matter strained relations between Britain and Israel.

A delegation of senior Israel Defense Forces officers last spring canceled their own planned visit to the U.K a month later.