Tzipi Livni: I'm coming to Britain

By Stephen Pollard and Martin Bright, February 3, 2010
Israeli opposition leader Tzipi Livni

Israeli opposition leader Tzipi Livni

Israeli opposition leader Tzipi Livni is planning to come to London to test the process for the issuing of arrest warrants for alleged war crimes.

Speaking exclusively to the JC, Ms Livni said: “I will do this not for me, not for provocation, but for the right of every Israeli to travel freely. I am not going to be restricted by extremists because I fought terror.”

The British system was, she said, “being abused by extremists for political reasons. Belgium and Spain have changed their laws, and the British know that they have to do so”.

Asked when she planned to come to London, she said she was considering a number of invitations. The JC understands from a source close to Ms Livni that, should the parliamentary deadline of February 23 pass without an announcement of a change in the law, she would take up one of the invitations within weeks.

If the law did not change, she said she would consult the Israeli Foreign Ministry on the exact legal situation, but would seek to act on behalf of all Israelis by visiting London.

“My intention is not to stay in Israel for ever. I don’t think as a decision-maker, who made decisions against terror, that I should plan never to leave Israel. The British fight terror, too. They do not remain in Britain. They travel.”

Ms Livni had originally been scheduled to come to London for a JNF conference at the end of last year. However, there is still no agreement at ministerial level on a change to the universal jurisdiction legislation. This now opens up the serious possibility that nothing will happen before the election.

The Jewish Leadership Council wrote to Mr Straw on January 28 requesting an urgent meeting on the issue, but has yet to receive a response.

The Foreign Office has confirmed that there have been further delays and said that no announcement is likely this week or next.

Foreign Secretary David Miliband first pledged a change to the law in December when the arrest warrant for Ms Livni was issued.The Ministry of Justice continued to maintain that Justice Secretary Jack Straw was not blocking the legislation.

However, the JC has spoken to several government sources who have said Mr Straw was “playing dirty” to delay an announcement.

The Ministry of Justice this week confirmed that any amendment to the law is likely to be attached to the Crime and Security Bill, which finishes its committee stage on February 23. The Government could then introduce an amendment at the report stage. An MoJ aide said that an amendment lies outside the scope of Mr Straw’s Constitutional Reform Bill, which ends its committee stage next week.

Meanwhile, backbench opposition to the Bill has been building. An early day motion opposing a change to the law now has 108 signatories, which would represent a significant rebellion so close to an election.

At a meeting earlier this week of the all-party parliamentary group on UK compliance with international law, lawyer Daniel Machover, who has been prominent in the campaign behind the arrest warrants of Israelis, presented the case for opposing the law change. MPs present committed themselves to a campaign to delay any announcement, a strategy which worked in 2005, when the issue was previously raised.

Veteran Labour rebel Bob Marshall-Andrews, who attended the meeting, chaired by Baroness Tonge, said: “I simply do not know what the government is going to do. If there is any moral, it is not to say the first thing that comes into your head.”

Shadow Attorney General Edward Garnier was also present at the meeting. The Conservative Party has pledged to support the government in its attempts to amend the legislation. However, it has serious reservations about parts of the Crime and Security Bill. The Tories are opposed to proposals in the bill on the collection of DNA evidence, ASBOs, stop and search and gangs.

Mr Garnier said: “It is no good blackmailing us to pass a bad piece of legislation. It is disingenuous to use our reasoned opposition to the Crime and Security Bill as an excuse. They know that if they come up with a sensible suggestion on universal jurisdiction, we will support them. But we need to know what they plan to do first.”

Israel’s Deputy Foreign Minister, Danny Ayalon, will visit London next week. He is exempt from war crimes warrants because of his ministerial status.

Last updated: 9:51am, March 26 2010