Israeli government to stop visits until arrest threat lifted

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Indy Politics

Israel announced today that it would not resume a special strategic dialogue with Britain while its ministers and officials risked possible arrest for war crimes when visiting the country.

The move was regarded by some observers as a snub to Foreign Secretary William Hague, who is visiting Jerusalem today.

But Downing Street insisted that the UK continued to have good relations with the Israeli government and was taking steps to lift the threat of arrest from its representatives.

Pro-Palestinian activists have used the concept of universal jurisdiction - which allows war crimes to be tried outside the country where they are alleged to have been committed - to seek the arrest of visiting Israeli politicians.

Israel's deputy prime minister Dan Meridor this week became the latest to cancel a visit to London following warnings that he could face an arrest warrant.

The UK-Israel annual strategic dialogue was launched two years ago to boost relations between the countries, but broke off at the beginning of this year.

Prime Minister David Cameron's spokesman said today that the UK agreed with Israel's concerns over the application of the universal jurisdiction principle to its representatives.

"It is something the Government is moving quickly to change so we don't have this situation where members of the Israeli Government could be threatened with arrest warrants if they come to the UK," said the statesman.

"We will be tabling legislation in the near future."

Asked whether the PM regarded Israel's comments as a snub to Mr Hague, who is on a two-day trip to Israel and the Palestinian territories to urge their leaders to stick to the process of direct peace talks, the spokesman said: "The Foreign Secretary is there and will be having talks with his counterparts.

"We have a good relationship with the Israeli Government."

He added: "We are in discussions with Israel about the dates for the next round of strategic dialogue."