JERUSALEM, Nov 3 (Dan Williams/Reuters) - Israel has stopped sending delegations for routine strategic talks with Britain out of fear pro-Palestinian activists would seek their arrest for alleged war crimes, Israel's Foreign Ministry said on Wednesday.
The announcement, issued during a visit by British Foreign Secretary William Hague, showed Israeli frustration at successive British governments' failure to repeal laws allowing private war crimes suits to be filed against foreign dignitaries.
Since 2005, several serving and former Israeli leaders have canceled trips to Britain after being warned they could be arrested for their role in military crackdowns on Palestinians.
The latest was Deputy Prime Minister Dan Meridor, who was scheduled to fly to Britain last month but, according to Israeli media, received word he would risk prosecution for Israel's May 31 killing of nine Turks aboard a Gaza aid convoy.
As long as they (Israeli delegates) can't come to Britain without fearing arrest, they won't come out, said Andy David, a Foreign Ministry spokesman. They will go as soon as there is no such threat. The ball is in their (Britain's) court.
Britain's Conservative-led government, like its Labor predecessor, has pledged to trim the universal jurisidiction provisions empowering magistrates to order the arrest of foreign nationals for alleged offenses committed abroad.
We have a real problem, and we recognize it, Hague told Israel's Yedioth Ahronoth daily in an interview.
We are now dealing with the problem, but since this is a parliamentary system, it takes several months to pass a new law. In the coming weeks, we will introduce the draft of the new law and pass it in the current session of parliament. I think it would be correct to first pass the law and only then to invite them (Israeli dignitaries), he said.
British officials have said the government expects to introduce the new law at the end of November.
Both Israel and Britain sought to play down the impact of the suspension of their strategic dialogue.
David said it was part of routine contacts Israel maintains with allies and noted Hague would discuss Iran, the peace process with the Palestinians, and other regional issues during his visit to Jerusalem and the West Bank city of Ramallah. A British source said the last round had taken place in October 2009, and noted the British and Israeli governments continued to discuss security issues. (Additional reporting by Adrian Croft and Tim Castle in London; Editing by Diana Abdallah)