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Israel and futurology: is the UK government now claiming it can predict the future?

Reports that the attorney general Lady Scotland will effectively give the Israeli authorities an assurance that none of its leaders will ever face arrest in the UK are … troubling.

On what basis are the UK authorities even promising this? Are we supposed to somehow believe that they know in advance that any future application for an arrest warrant concerning Israeli individuals will always be underserved? Is the government now capable of selected acts of futurology?

If Lady Scotland is making these promises, why is she doing so? Is it because, somehow, the UK can’t ever allow an Israeli national – a former minister, a Israeli Defense Force general, indeed anyone from Israel – to be arrested on British soil? Again, why? Because they’re Israeli and we, the UK, are “a friend” to Israel?

Well, OK, we don’t actually know the detail of what’s going on, but after December‘s row over the arrest warrant for Tzipi Livni it’s looking increasingly likely that the UK is set to arrange for some form of blanket immunity from UK arrest for Israel’s senior people.

How to react? Should we accept this as the realpolitik of international relations? Not strictly right but something that nevertheless recognises the reality of power-play between the UK and Israel? No, I don’t think so. Because, if sweeping assurances are indeed being offered to the Israeli government, then the UK’s role is nothing more than a shabby one. It amounts to a small but significant act that undermines the painstaking international effort to make people accountable for their crimes, including crimes of war.  What price international justice now?

I don’t have a crystal ball myself, but I’d say that if this comes to pass – and we hear of measures clearly designed to “protect” Israeli officials from UK arrest – then the present Labour government will have reneged on a key part of its own legacy. Let’s not forget that the UK, notably under Robin Cook and the early Blair government, championed the creation of the International Criminal Court in the late 90s and fought a worthy battle to see that people like Slobodan Milošević, Radovan Karadić, Charles Taylor, numerous Rwandan genocidaires and many others would end up facing justice at The Hague and elsewhere.

As Richard Goldstone says in a recent New Statesman interview, the Hague courts (first for the Former Yugoslavia, then the international one) in particular have been a major historical development in “progressively removing impunity for war criminals”. But not, apparently, as important as the British-Israeli relationship.

Surely it’s not too late to change course on this. Rather than picking away at the fabric of international justice, Britain should be steadfast in saying “no, this is international law and if necessary even people who are friends should be held accountable for their actions”.

What’s going to happen next? Don’t know. Haven’t checked my crystal ball yet.


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Our blogs are written by Amnesty International staff, volunteers and other interested individuals, to encourage debate around human rights issues. They do not necessarily represent the views of Amnesty International.
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