LONDON — British Prime Minister Gordon Brown said he will change legislation enabling Palestinian groups to obtain arrest warrants against Israeli political leaders on suspicion of war crimes.
However, in practice, the legislation is likely to wait until after a general election in the United Kingdom.
In the March 4 Daily Telegraph, Brown wrote that Britain is committed to “universal jurisdiction” in serious cases of war crimes. But he added that Britain must make sure that individuals with political interests can’t have arrest warrants issued against foreign leaders in cases where there isn’t sufficient evidence.
In order to overcome this problem, Brown announced March 4 that his government is considering changing the law to require the consent of the Public Prosecution Service prior to the issuance of such an arrest warrant.
Brown added that the government’s suggestion will be put before the parliamentary justice committee. Justice Minister Jack Straw indicated the committee will have to present its conclusion to the government within one month. However, since the United Kingdom is on the verge of an election campaign, and the prime minister might announce the election date before the date the committee has to present its conclusion, it might be too late to enact the law before the election.
Israeli officials and military officers, unwilling to risk having an arrest warrant issued against them, have been avoiding the United Kingdom.
Britain wants to continue to be involved in the Middle East peace process, and the British government is aware that it would be marginalized if Israeli politicians refuse to visit Britain.
Israeli British Ambassador Ron Prosor welcomed Brown’s announcement.
“We particularly concur that ‘Britain cannot afford to have its standing in the world compromised for the sake of tolerating such gestures,’” he said, quoting from Brown’s piece in the Telegraph.
The Conservative Party’s spokesperson Justice, Dominic Grieve, said: “This morning Gordon Brown wrote in the Daily Telegraph that ‘Britain cannot afford to have its standing in the world compromised’ by spurious and politicized war crimes prosecutions. This afternoon, he kicked the whole issue into the long grass. The Conservatives would have supported him in resolving the problem, but he has chosen to duck it instead.”