Daniel Estrin
The Statesman
November 3, 2010 - 12:00am

Israel has suspended a special strategic dialogue with London as long as Israeli officials visiting Britain face possible arrest for suspected war crimes against Palestinians, officials said Wednesday.

The announcement came as British Foreign Secretary William Hague met with senior Israeli officials in Jerusalem. Officials from both countries said the matter would be high on the meeting's agenda, and the British Foreign Office said it was working to resolve the matter.

British officials also said Hague would repeat Britain's criticism of West Bank settlements.

They said he would tell Israeli leaders that the "window for a two-state solution is closing" and that the U.S.-led peace process is the best opportunity for the two sides to hold talks. The British officials spoke on condition of anonymity in line with government policy.

The latest round of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, launched at the White House in September, stalled quickly over Israel's rejection of Palestinian demands for a continued freeze on West Bank settlement construction. Israel says the issue should be discussed in the negotiations.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told parliament Wednesday he will meet next week with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton to discuss efforts to revive the talks. Netanyahu will be in the U.S. for a meeting of Jewish leaders. Earlier it was announced he would meet Vice President Joe Biden.

Netanyahu expressed appreciation for Washington's role in the peace process.

"I know that we have the desire to move it forward, and we have taken steps to do that. I am sure that the U.S. has such a desire," he said. "I hope that the Palestinian Authority also has such a desire."

The Israel-Palestinian conflict continues to cloud Israel's relations with other countries, including Britain.

A number of Israeli officials have been threatened with possible prosecution in Britain under the law of "universal jurisdiction," which contends that crimes against humanity are so egregious that they can be prosecuted even if they were not committed in the United Kingdom.

The two countries announced the dialogue two years ago to boost relations and cooperation on security and diplomatic issues, but Israel put them on hold after former Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni canceled a trip to London for fear of arrest earlier this year.

Pro-Palestinian activists have filed lawsuits against Israeli officials over military operations against Palestinians. British courts have issued arrest warrants for Israeli officials, and though no one has been arrested, the repeated attempts to prosecute them have strained ties between the two countries.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor said that although Israel's relations with Britain are "very good," the existing law "makes it impossible to conduct dialogue at the highest levels."

Israeli Deputy Prime Minister Dan Meridor was the latest to cancel a trip to London, backing out Monday of a planned speech to a pro-Israel British group after being advised that he risked arrest.

"It is important that Israeli politicians are able to visit the U.K.," Hague told reporters, noting that the British parliament is working to change the law so that a "universal jurisdiction" arrest "would have to be one that had a reasonable prospect of prosecution, so that it is not used for trivial or political reasons."

But he rejected Israel's linking the law with the strategic dialogue.

Hague also met Wednesday with Palestinians who demonstrate weekly against Israel's separation barrier in the West Bank, which cuts off some Palestinian villages from their farm land. Israel says the barrier is needed to keep out attackers.

Hague praised the idea of nonviolence and listened to the accounts of the activists. The group stood on a hill overlooking an Israeli military prison camp in the West Bank.


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