Israel Rejects British Legal Threat To Ex-Minister

Tzipi Livni gives a farewell speech at the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem in March. i i

Tzipi Livni gives a farewell speech at the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem in March. The Israeli government has condemned an attempt in Britain to arrest the former foreign minister for alleged war crimes. Bernat Armangue/AP hide caption

itoggle caption Bernat Armangue/AP
Tzipi Livni gives a farewell speech at the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem in March.

Tzipi Livni gives a farewell speech at the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem in March. The Israeli government has condemned an attempt in Britain to arrest the former foreign minister for alleged war crimes.

Bernat Armangue/AP

The Israeli government has condemned an attempt in Britain to arrest a former Israeli foreign minister for alleged war crimes.

An arrest warrant was issued in London over the weekend against Tzipi Livni, who was targeted for her role in Israel's military offensive in the Gaza Strip last winter. The warrant is the latest incident to make life uncomfortable for senior Israeli leaders who might travel to Britain, and has caused concern in Israel.

Under the concept of "universal jurisdiction," some crimes are considered serious enough that they can be prosecuted in Britain no matter where they allegedly took place.

Livni was due to attend a conference in London last weekend when the court issued a warrant for her arrest, apparently at the request of lawyers acting for a group of Palestinians. However, since Livni did not travel to Britain, the warrant was dropped.

Livni responded angrily to the news Tuesday, saying it wasn't a warrant aimed at her but an action against Israel, and she defended Israel's use of force in Gaza last December and January, when she was foreign minister.

"The decisions that we made are the same decisions that any country who wants to defend its citizens would have taken," she said. "And it's about time to put terrorists on trial, and not those who [try] to stop terror and bring life or bring peace to our region."

Livni said she was proud of her actions as foreign minister and that all necessary steps were taken to avoid civilian casualties in the Gaza offensive — a claim that many Palestinian and human rights groups reject.

Palestinians and human rights groups say more than 1,400 Palestinians were killed in the offensive; Israel puts the figure at about 1,100; 13 Israelis lost their lives.

The British government said it was urgently looking into the implications of the case. Last month, the British ambassador in Israel said his government did not support action in the British courts against Israeli leaders, but he said it is bound by existing laws.

Abdel Bari Atwan, editor-in-chief of Al Quds, an Arabic newspaper published in London, rejected the argument that such legal moves against Israeli leaders jeopardize the peace process.

"What peace process?" he said. The "peace process [was] undermined completely because of the Israeli insistence to build settlements on the West Bank and in Jerusalem. And this is a clear violation of the international legality. So there is no peace process at all, and the Israelis are responsible for derailing the peace process, so I think Israel should not isolate Britain — I think Britain should isolate Israel."

In September, pro-Palestinian lawyers failed in an attempt to use the "universal jurisdiction" law to arrest Israel's defense minister, Ehud Barak, when he came to Britain.

London lawyer Tayab Ali, who was involved in the attempt to obtain the warrant for Barak's arrest, told NPR on Tuesday that he would be "willing to act for anyone seeking the arrest of people suspected of war crimes," but he would not comment on the warrant issued for Livni's arrest.

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