Meeting with Israeli officials in Jerusalem this morning, British Attorney General Baroness Scotland reiterated her government’s pledge to amend the “universal jurisdiction” law under which British courts have repeatedly issued arrest warrants against Israeli officers and politicians. That pledge, first made by Prime Minister Gordon Brown last month, outraged the Muslim Council of Britain, which accused the government of being “partisan” and “compliant to [Israeli] demands.”
But if Britain keeps its word, the pro-Palestinian activists who keep seeking, and getting, those warrants will have only themselves to blame. After all, British courts have issued such warrants for years without the British government batting an eye, despite vociferous Israeli protests, and could probably have continued doing so had activists only picked their targets a little more carefully. The British couldn’t care less if Israeli army officers canceled planned visits for fear of being arrested, as yet another group did last week. Ditto for right-of-center politicians such as Minister Moshe Ya’alon, who aborted a planned trip in November: Britain would rather not hear from Israelis who think peace with the Palestinians is currently impossible.
But the activists overreached last month by securing a warrant against former foreign minister and current opposition leader Tzipi Livni. Livni is the Great White Hope of peace-processors worldwide, the Israeli deemed most likely to sign a deal with the Palestinians. She won praise from her Palestinian interlocutors during a year of final-status negotiations in 2008; she publicly declares that any Israeli premier’s primary responsibility, far above such trivialities as preventing Iran from getting the bomb, is to create a Palestinian state. And, not coincidentally, she is the most left-wing Israeli who could conceivably become prime minister. If even Livni can’t travel to Britain, London would be left with no Israelis to talk to at all.
And for the pro-Palestinian radicals who seek these warrants, that’s precisely the point. In their view, there are no “good” Israelis; all Israelis (except those who favor abolishing their own country) are evil and deserve to be in jail. There’s no difference between Livni, passionately committed to Palestinian statehood, and a right-wing extremist, because Livni and the extremist are equally guilty of the cardinal sins: both believe Israel should continue to exist as a Jewish state, and both are willing to fight to defend it.
In truth, Britain ought to amend the law for its own sake: while Israelis can live without visiting London, a country whose soldiers are in combat from Iraq to Afghanistan has much to lose from encouraging universal jurisdiction, which allows any country to try any other country’s nationals for “war crimes” committed anywhere in the world, even if neither crime nor criminal has any connection to the indicting country. Hence if the Livni warrant does finally spur London to action, Britain will benefit no less than Israel does.
But it would be even more useful if the case finally prompted Britons to recognize the pro-Palestinian radicals’ true goal: not “peace,” but the end of Israel.