LONDON - The British government yesterday proposed a bill on universal jurisdiction to Parliament, which if passed will mean that a private plaintiff will no longer be able to seek an arrest warrant from a court without the consent of the Director of Public Prosecutions.
Such a change would not mean that Israelis could never be prosecuted in Britain for war crimes under universal jurisdiction - but it would make such a process much more difficult and rare.
If such a proposal is passed, which could take until late September or early October, it would spell a victory for Israel, which has been pushing for such a change.
Last year, pro-Palestinian activists in Britain obtained an arrest warrant against MK Tzipi Livni for alleged war crimes during Operation Cast Lead ahead of a planned visit by Livni to the United Kingdom.
Livni canceled her visit without connection to the warrant, which was rescinded. But pressure was brought to bear on Britain following the incident to change the law. Due to impending elections the legislation was not moved ahead, but has begun now that a new government is in office.
"The passing of this amendment will put an end to the terrible distortion by which private political entities take cynical advantage of the justice system in the global war on terror.
The free world must maintain the necessary distinction between real war criminals, who must be brought to justice, and those fighting the terror that brings harm to civilians, first and foremost the IDF's officers and soldiers. This is a step in the right direction," Livni said yesterday.
Israel's ambassador to Britain, Ron Prosor, said yesterday that if Britain passed the resolution, it would "assist in allowing Britain to play an important role in the peace process in the Middle East, something which is being prevented at the moment."
The British Ministry of Justice, in a leaked statement, explained that while its commitment to ensuring that there is no impunity for those accused of war crimes was "unwavering ... it was nonetheless important that such cases proceed only on the basis of solid evidence that is likely to lead to a successful prosecution."
The British Foreign Office declined to comment on the matter yesterday, as the proposal had not yet been brought before Parliament. Addressing issues around universal jurisdiction remains a priority for this government, an official said.
Britain's ambassador to Israel, Tom Phillips, called Livni yesterday to report to her on the legislative initiative.
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