By Matthew Kalman
Row: Tzipi Livni arrives at 10 Downing Street on a previous trip to London in 2008
Israel has reacted with fury to the arrest warrant for alleged war crimes issued against Israeli opposition leader Tzipi Livni by a London magistrate on Saturday, accusing the British Government of breaking an undertaking to stop pro-Palestinian activists from using the British courts to pursue Israeli politicians and generals.
In a sharply-worded statement, the Israeli foreign ministry said Britain should 'fulfill its promises to stop anti-Israel exploitation of the British courts' or risk losing its role in Middle East peacemaking.
'Promises were given by the British at the very highest level that they would solve the problem,' Israeli government officials told the Daily Mail.
'David Miliband promised on many occasions that the government would introduce legislation that will end this absurdity,' Israeli deputy foreign minister Danny Ayalon said.
'Until such legislation is possible, I hope there will be some expeditious measures, whether they are technical or interim, that will extricate all of us from this very awkward situation.
'During my last trip to London I met my opposite number Ivan Lewis, the minister of state at the Foreign Office, who promised me that everything would be done to close this loophole in British law that allows any local judge in the middle of nowhere to issue arrest warrants like these,' he said.
Israeli officials said similar assurances were given last August during talks in London between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Gordon Brown.
'Their response was: "Of course you're right, it has to be changed." And they gave us the impression that it would be,' an Israeli government official told the Mail.
The warrant against Livni was withdrawn, but not before she had cancelled a planned trip to address a conference in London this week. Livni was Israel’s foreign minister during last year’s war in Gaza, where both Israelis and Palestinians have been accused of war crimes.
Firm friends: Prime Minister Gordon Brown with Tzipi Livini during a visit to Israel and Palestine in 2008
Several senior Israeli officials have cancelled trips to London after pro-Palestinian activists secured arrest warrants from British judges. Doron Almog, an Israeli general in charge of operations in Gaza during the intifada uprising, was forced to remain on a plane on the tarmac at Heathrow in 2005 to evade possible arrest if he set foot on British soil.
Defence Minister and former Prime Minister Ehud Barak was also threatened with arrest when he came to meet Brown and address a fringe meeting at the Labour Party conference in October.
Tony Blair, who is now the peace envoy of the Middle East Quartet, agreed that Israeli leaders should be allowed to enter and leave Britain without fear.
'My view has always been that members of the Israeli government and senior members of the Israeli military of course should be welcome in Britain and I’ve met them there and in Downing Street many times,' he said.
'Israel is a friend of the UK and the UK is a friend of Israel in my book and I very much hope that people can go to and from Israel with ease.'