LONDON - Former Foreign Minister MK Tzipi Livni, currently in London to attend the Haaretz Israel Conference, has been granted special diplomatic immunity following a bid by the British police to question her in connection with war crimes.
The unprecedented police summons, which was delivered last Thursday, was cancelled after diplomatic contacts between Israel and Britain, at the end of which Livni received immunity.
According to the summons, police wanted to question Livni, a Zionist Union Knesset member, on suspicion of involvement in war crimes during Operation Cast Lead in Gaza in 2008, when she was foreign minister, vice prime minister and a member of the diplomatic-security cabinet.
Haaretz understands that Livni received a telephone call last Thursday from a detective belonging to Scotland Yard's War Crimes unit, who asked her to confirm that she would be visiting London. At the conclusion of the telephone conversation, he sent her the summons via email.
By acting as they did – approaching Livni directly and not via the Israeli Embassy in London – the British police effectively sidestepped accepted diplomatic procedure. Immediately after receiving the summons, Livni informed the embassy, the Prime Minister's Office, the Foreign Ministry and the Justice Ministry.
During the subsequent contacts with the British authorities, the Foreign Ministry clarified that Livni intended to continue with her visit to London, even without diplomatic immunity. A senior official in Jerusalem said that Israel's approach was intended to pressure the British authorities to deal with the issue seriously.
The summons made it clear that the questioning was "on a voluntary basis" and by consent only, and was designed to receive information and clarifications from Livni regarding the suspicions against her, the senior official said.
The subject of the questioning was Livni's involvement in suspected war crimes and violations of the Geneva Convention during the 2008 Cast Lead operation in Gaza. Pro-Palestinian organizations have filed a series of complaints against senior Israeli officials, including Livni, in recent years.
The highly irregular and unprecedented summons was received two days before Livni's planned visit to London to participate in a conference organized by Haaretz and the British Jewish community. Urgent contacts began immediately after its receipt between the Israeli Embassy in Britain and the Justice and Foreign ministries in Jerusalem, in an attempt to find a solution to the issue.
The senior official noted that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was kept informed of the details, as were Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked and Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit.
At a certain point, contacts were also initiated with the British government, out of concern that Livni would be arrested upon her arrival in London or during her stay there, despite the police assurance that her attendance was not obligatory.
It was agreed with the British Foreign Office that a meeting would be arranged for Livni with the minister in charge of Middle Eastern affairs and that Livni's visit to London would acquire the status of a "special diplomatic assignment," which would automatically grant her immunity from arrest and prosecution.
At the same time, the Israeli Embassy in Britain informed Scotland Yard that Livni would not be coming in for questioning.
Livni referred to the summons at the Haaretz conference in London on Sunday, saying that a solution needed to be found once and for all to the legal threat facing Israeli leaders who visit Britain.
Livni said that she came to the conference to "speak about what I represent, the desire for peace," but added that for years, every one of her visits to the U.K. has been subject to legal threat due to the arrest warrants against her in connection with Israeli military action against Hamas in Gaza.
She added that she had decided to address the issue publicly in light of the police summons. "I'm proud of the decisions I made as a cabinet minister in the Israeli government," Livni said.
She slammed Hamas, stressing that it was defined as a terrorist organization in Europe. The group's religious ideology was not directed at establishing a state, but at fighting Jews and Christians, Livni said.
Hamas, she added, continued to attack Israel despite the fact that Israel had left the Strip and abandoned its settlements in the territory. "Just two days ago, Hamas targeted a children center in Sderot. Thank God it was closed," she said.
Livni said she rejects any comparison between Israeli soldiers or air force pilots, who try to avoid harming civilians, and terrorists, as well as any comparison between a Hamas arch-terrorist who gives an order and Israeli decision makers.
"The British legal system is being abused," she said.
Livni said that Israel is open to visits by British ministers, and that Israel did not question their decisions in cabinet. Israel, she said, respects Britain's fight against global terrorism and therefore expects Britain to respect Israel.
"The fact that Israeli decision-makers and army commanders are forced to participate in a 'theater of the absurd' when we come to London is something that is not acceptable," she said. "It's not a personal issue, it's a moral issue and this is something that needs to be changed."