What really happened when Tzipi Livni came to Britain?

There are few lengths to which so-called Western democracies won’t go to protect Zionist leaders accused of war crimes:

Britain blocked an attempt on Thursday to arrest visiting Israeli opposition leader Tzipi Livni for alleged war crimes, officials said.

Livni, foreign minister during Israel’s three-week assault on the Palestinian-ruled Gaza Strip launched in December 2008, is the first senior Israeli figure to visit Britain since the government changed a war crimes law that had kept her and some other Israeli officials away for fear of arrest.

Her centrist Kadima party said she was in Britain at the invitation of Foreign Secretary William Hague.

A Palestinian civilian, who maintains Livni is responsible for war crimes allegedly committed by Israel during the Gaza offensive, asked Britain’s top prosecutor to allow an application be made for an arrest warrant for Livni, according to lawyers representing the unnamed Palestinian.

The Crown Prosecution Service said prosecutors had not taken a decision on the request when the government intervened, informing them that Livni was on a “special mission” to Britain, effectively granting her immunity from prosecution.

As a result, Britain’s top prosecutor, Keir Starmer, refused to allow an application to court for an arrest warrant against Livni.

Britain last month introduced a new law limiting citizens’ rights to seek the arrest of foreign politicians for alleged war crimes committed anywhere in the world.

But there remains some confusion as to what the British government is doing, as Ben White reports for the New Statesman:

Last month, on the day that changes in universal jurisdiction law went into effect, Israel’s former Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni said she “received a phone call” from UK Ambassador to Israel Matthew Gould telling her “there is no longer a warrant for my arrest”.

Yet when Livni arrived in Britain on Thursday, something went wrong. In what was billed as a “test case” for a law designed to remove the threat of arrest for visiting Israeli officials, Livni only avoided a warrant due to a legal assessment by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) that she was on a “Special Mission”.

In a statement released Thursday lunchtime, the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) revealed that it was the Special Mission status of Livni’s visit that led the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) to refuse to “give his consent to the private prosecutor to make an application to the court for an arrest warrant”.

Some incorrectly interpreted this as the DPP blocking an attempt to arrest Livni; in fact, as a spokesperson for the CPS had confirmed to me, what prevented an arrest warrant being issued was the Special Mission status – there was no decision regarding the prospect of conviction.

According to the CPS’s statement, the DPP took into account a case earlier this year when the High Court considered, among other things, the “legal effect” of the Special Mission certificate. But by citing this ruling, more questions are raised about what happened Thursday.

Evidence submitted to the High Court included a letter written by the FCO itself in January 2011, which described a Special Mission as “a means to conduct ad hoc diplomacy in relation to specific international business”, whose “fundamental aspect” is “the mutuality of consent of both the sending and the receiving States to the Special Mission”. In his ruling, Lord Justice Moses said that “the Special Mission represents the sending State in the same way as a permanent Diplomatic Mission represents the State who sends it”, and called it “vital” that “the consent which must be previously obtained is consent to a Special Mission” (my emphasis). Moses added: “Not every official visit is a Special Mission”.

Yet Livni, a foreign opposition politician who was not part of a wider government delegation, was afforded Special Mission status. How were FCO legal advisers able to make this analysis, if, as appears to be the case, there was no prior agreement between the British and Israeli governments that Livni’s visit would be a Special Mission?

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