William Hague meets Israeli Tzipi Livni for talks

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The Independent Online

Foreign Secretary William Hague today held talks in Britain with former Israeli foreign minister Tzipi Livni in the first test of new laws governing arrest warrants for war crimes.

Mr Hague said the meeting underlined the "warmth and strength of our bilateral relations" as the pair discussed the importance of building support for a two-state solution for Israel and the Palestinians.

Ms Livni was forced to cancel a visit to the UK in December 2009 after a British court issued a warrant for her arrest.

But an Act recently passed by Parliament introduced a new requirement aimed at preventing the courts being used for political purposes.

The change has paved the way for Ms Livni's visit, which was announced on Monday night at a Conservative Party conference fringe event.

Speaking after the meeting, the Foreign Secretary said: "I was delighted to welcome Ms Livni to London at a critical moment for the Middle East.

"It was an appalling situation when political abuse of our legal procedures prevented people like Ms Livni from travelling legitimately to the UK. We have dealt with this urgently as we promised to on coming to office.

"The UK will continue to honour our international obligations and make sure that people who have committed some of the most awful crimes - wherever in the world they took place - can be brought to justice in our courts.

He added: "Today's meeting showed the warmth and strength of our bilateral relations. Israel is an important ally and we will continue to work together to face common threats such as the Iranian nuclear programme.

"We discussed the importance of building support for a two-state solution that leads to a lasting peace in the Middle East. I made clear my desire to see Israel secure now and in the future, alongside a Palestinian state, and my belief that both Israelis and Palestinians should return to talks in line with the Quartet Statement."

Speaking earlier at a Conservative Friends of Israel meeting, director Stuart Polak said Ms Livni always planned to come to the UK once there had been a change in the law to prevent her being arrested for political capital.

The Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill received royal assent a couple of weeks ago, meaning she is now able to visit the UK, he said.

The arrest warrant followed Ms Livni's role as foreign minister during Israel's three-week military campaign in Gaza in December 2008 and January 2009, codenamed Operation Cast Lead.

The offensive led to the deaths of more than 1,000 Palestinians.

The CPS said an application was made on Tuesday October 4 to the Director of Public Prosecutions, Keir Starmer QC, to exercise his consent for a private prosecutor to apply for a warrant to arrest Ms Livni, for alleged offences relating to breaches of the Fourth Geneva Convention over military action in Gaza in December 2008.

It said: "This morning a certificate issued under the authority of Her Majesty's Principal Secretary of State and bearing today's date has been served on the CPS stating that the Foreign and Commonwealth Office has consented to the visit to the UK of Ms Livni on 5-6 October 2011 as a 'special mission' and she has been received as such."

It added: "Accordingly the Director of Public Prosecutions has concluded that a magistrates' court would be bound to refuse any application for the arrest of Ms Livni for the duration of this visit.

"In those circumstances, the Director of Public Prosecutions has refused to give his consent to the private prosecutor to make an application to the court for an arrest warrant."

Ms Livni, who was part of a team involved in negotiations with Palestinians before Israeli elections, said a settlement was not likely to be reached soon.

"I cannot say for sure that we can end this the next day, it is not around the corner, but it is clear to me that we need to explore more and rebuild trust," she told BBC Radio 4's Today programme.

The Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC) plans to stage a demonstration outside Downing Street later today in protest at Ms Livni's visit.

It called on the Government to "arrest war criminals, not invite them for tete-a-tetes".

Sarah Colborne, director of PSC, said: "The Israeli army is used to getting away with - Palestinian - murder."

She said that, following the 2005 visit to London by Israeli General Doron Almog, when he avoided arrest by staying on board a plane at Heathrow following a tip-off that a warrant had been issued for his detention, the response from the Israeli government "was not to end its illegal actions, but to work to change the law to prevent its citizens from facing justice in other countries".

She added: "This pressure by Israel intensified following the case of Tzipi Livni, who faced an arrest warrant over crimes committed during Operation Cast Lead.

"In response to this unrelenting pressure, the British Government has just amended the law on universal jurisdiction so that in future the Director of Public Prosecutions - answerable to the Attorney General - will be required to authorise an application before a judge is allowed to consider the case for an arrest warrant.

"PSC will be calling on the Government to arrest war criminals, not invite them for tete-a-tetes."