Britain risks a showdown with Israel today when the Government signals it is in no hurry to ease the threat of arrest for visiting politicians and generals.
Ministers will announce a consultation on the principle of universal jurisdiction, under which private citizens can secure arrest warrants for offences such as war crimes committed abroad.
The Government had promised swift action when the Israeli opposition leader Tzipi Livni cancelled a trip to London last year after a magistrate issued a warrant for her arrest for alleged war crimes in Gaza when she was Foreign Minister.
The issue caused embarrassment for the Government, which promised to remedy the matter quickly.Today’s announcement, however, means that the issue will not be resolved until well after the election, expected in May. When The Times reported last month that a Cabinet split could delay the issue could be delayed for months, Ms Livni threatened to travel to Britain and “take the bullet” as the only way of shaming the Government into action.
After the disclosure that agents suspected of acting for Mossad, the Israeli intelligence service, used fake British passports to enter Dubai and kill a Hamas commander, however, the balance of diplomatic power has shifted.
The delay is a victory for Jack Straw, the Justice Secretary, who has argued that the legal point at stake is too important to rush.
Clauses that could have been attached to the Crime and Security Bill now before Parliament have been drafted. Under one, the Attorney-General, not a magistrate, would have to authorise an arrest warrant
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