Palestinians to continue hunt for Israeli leaders

13:38, December 17, 2009      

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by David Harris

Had Tzipi Livni, the Israeli opposition leader, gone ahead with a planned visit to Britain this coming weekend, she could well have found herself arrested and facing court proceedings.

This is the latest in a series of high-profile attempts by Palestinians and their supporters to bring leading Israelis to trial for alleged war crimes, particularly in the wake of last winter's Israeli military operation in and around the Gaza Strip.

And a Palestinian human-rights organization told Xinhua on Wednesday that it will continue its efforts in Britain and elsewhere.

Many of the cases being brought internationally against Israeli officials are the work of two Palestinian human-rights organizations, the Ramallah-based al-Haq and al-Mezan which operates out of Gaza.

Al-Mezan would not comment on the Livni case, but it did take the lead in the bid to prosecute Barak. The organization told Xinhua that it will continue its efforts to seek justice both in Britain and elsewhere.

"Part of out mandate is to seek justice and reparations for the victims of human-rights violations and therefore we are trying to make use of all the tools and mechanisms provided in international law," said Mahmoud Abu Rahma, al-Mezan's director of international relations.

A report for the UN Human Rights Council suggested Israel and Hamas may both have been guilty of war crimes during last winter's Gaza conflict.

"We will continue to do so when we know about any Israeli official who is suspected of being part of a conspiracy or who perpetrated a war crime in the occupied Palestinian territories," he added.

The incident involving Israel's former Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, has led to a mini political crisis between Israel and Britain, with Israel threatening to prevent London from being an active player in the peace process unless it prevents further instances of this nature.

"Issues between Israel and Britain should be dealt with in different tones. Israel will not be indifferent to arrest orders for senior Israeli officials," Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman was quoted as saying by the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs website.

British Foreign Secretary David Miliband said in a statement on Tuesday that Israeli leaders, as with those from other countries, "must be able to visit and have a proper dialogue with the British government."

Britain is "looking urgently at ways in which the British system might be changed in order to avoid this sort of situation arising again," he added.

While his public apology and conversations with both Livni and Lieberman will have calmed Israeli nerves somewhat, Israeli diplomats are still concerned that Britain will not immediately be able to close the legal loophole that allows these attempted prosecutions.

Israeli diplomatic officials point to the previous times that warrants have been issued or Palestinian groups have asked courts to bring Israelis to trial. On those occasions Israel has appealed to Whitehall to intervene but so far nothing has been done, according to the diplomats.

The most recent case was that of former Israeli Premier Ehud Barak, the current defense minister. In October he spoke at the Labor Party's annual conference alongside British Prime Minister Gordon Brown. On the same day, Palestinians unsuccessfully attempted to have him arrested.

Four years earlier, Doron Almog, a senior Israeli general, was advised not to disembark from his plane at Heathrow because he would face arrest.

The basic problem as defined by Miliband is that "the procedure by which arrest warrants can be sought and issued without any prior knowledge or advice by a prosecutor is an unusual feature of the system in England and Wales."

Since the Almog case, leading Jewish organizations in Britain have been lobbying the government to try to alter the legislation.

It is not exactly clear how the government can make a change, but veteran British journalist Jerry Lewis believes the legal advisers in Westminster are trying to find a legal loophole to prevent warrants being issued. If that fails, the government may well have to consider introducing parliamentary legislation.

It is rumored that the government is most seriously considering the introduction of a system whereby an individual will be allowed to apply for an arrest warrant, but it would have to be approved by the attorney general.

If that method comes into play and Palestinian applicants then find their own loopholes, the government will have to introduce a parliamentary bill, "which will be very difficult in the run up toa general election," said Lewis.

The situation is incredibly frustrating for the British and Israeli government, but Palestinian and other activists are "cock-a-hoop" about their successes, according to Lewis.

However, given the close relationship between the countries, particularly when it comes to discussions concerning Israel in the international community, the Livni incident is viewed with some dismay in both countries, but analysts said, to some extent the British government is at a loss as to how to deal with this type of incident.

Lewis fears that despite Miliband's promise to do what he can to end the phenomenon, there is absolutely no guarantee that future cases will be stopped.

Source: Xinhua
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