‘Generals row’ hits Peres visit

Historic visit: Shimon Peres in a reflective moment at Mansion House in London this week

Historic visit: Shimon Peres in a reflective moment at Mansion House in London this week

A diplomatic row is simmering behind this week's historic visit of President Shimon Peres.

Mr Peres, who flies back today after four days in Britain, met The Queen, the Prime Minister and made an emotional address to Parliament.

He also faced protests during an address to Oxford students and made an emotional address to MPs.
But his aides accused the British government of failing to deliver on promises to change the law that allows individuals to bring legal actions against IDF officers.

They insisted that one of the most important issues on his agenda was the threat to arrest Israeli officers, a row that began three years ago when former General Doron Almog was forced to remain on a plane at Heathrow or face an arrest warrant for alleged war crimes if he stepped on to the tarmac.

Since then, serving and former IDF generals, including former chiefs of staff, Defence Minister Ehud Barak and Transport Minister Shaul Mofaz, have not visited Britain.

"We have given the British everything they have asked us on intelligence matters," said an Israeli source.

"Nothing has been denied them. And they promised us that this matter would be solved. It is a chutzpah that they have not done what they promised, especially at the same time that British soldiers are fighting

errorists in Iraq and Afghanistan."

Various proposals have been put forward in bilateral meetings to amend the law "but so far the government hasn't found the right timing to bring it to Parliament", said an Israeli diplomat.

In an unpublished interview last week, Foreign Secretary David Miliband said that the government "is still looking for a legal solution".

Mr Peres told the JC this week: "I am bringing this issue up in my meetings with British politicians. I am asking them, if this isn't just targeted specifically at Israel, then why are there no arrest warrants against American officers?"

Last week, Britain's ambassador to Israel was called for talks in Jerusalem to protest over the lack of progress on civil arrests, in addition to Israel's displeasure over the British initiative to label goods from the settlements.

Lawyer Daniel Machover, who requested the arrest warrant against General Almog as attorney for the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights, said: "It is breathtaking that a foreign government is trying to intervene in the internal judicial process in Britain."

Mr Peres faced hecklers as he gave a lecture at Oxford's Sheldonian Theatre and was greeted by a handful of protestors outside some public events.

But while he attributed it partly to "some kind of colonial feeling of guilt", he joked: "What I do know is that if Israel was in a miserable state, there would be less antisemitism. So I don't feel so bad because we are not in a miserable state."

Praising Gordon Brown as "a true friend of Israel", he said the election of Barack Obama as US president would be very good for the Jewish state.

    Last updated: 5:47pm, November 20 2008