A very special mission

Why was Tzipi Livni's visit to the UK accorded privileged status?

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?

While Foreign Secretary William Hague had publicly extended an invitation to Livni to visit the UK, the exact nature of her visit is unclear. According to pro-Israel advocacy group BICOM, it is they who "facilitated" Livni's visit.

Questions remain to be answered. The FCO only stated that Livni's visit had Special Mission status after a request for an opinion by the Attorney General Dominic Grieve. As the Jewish Chronicle reported, when Grieve was in the opposition he promised to "fix the situation if the Tories win power". In February 2010, Ken Clarke and Edward Garnier met with Livni in Israel and pledged to change the law once in government; they are now the Secretary of State for Justice and Solicitor-General respectively.

There are concerns about the timing of the Special Mission announcement. According to Daniel Machover of Hickman and Rose Solicitors, once the original application for an arrest warrant was made on Tuesday 4 October, there was constant contact with the prosecutor until all went silent for a few critical hours on the morning of Thursday 6 October. What happened to those assurances that the change in legislation would not affect the ability for cases to be dealt with in an appropriately timely manner? In addition, the CPS said that the FCO certificate of Special Mission status was received - and dated - Thursday morning. Yet by 7.30am, Livni was already in London and being interviewed on the Today programme. If the certificate's dating is irrelevant, when had the Special Mission status been agreed?

If the British and Israeli governments had secretly agreed that Livni's visit would be a Special Mission beforehand - though there is no indication this is the case - then the idea that this was a "test case" for the new universal jurisdiction legislation is a sham. If, on the other hand, the declaration of Special Mission status was a contingency option adopted as events unfolded, then it suggests that the new legislation does not protect those who actually have a case to answer.

During her visit, Livni told Hague she hopes his "hospitality for me today will herald the arrival of IDF officials" in Britain. Former Israeli general Doron Almog, who previously escaped arrest by staying on his plane at Heathrow, has announced his intention to visit the UK "early next year". The questions raised by this week's visit need answers, and soon.

Ben White is a freelance journalist and writer, specialising in Israel/Palestine

Ben White is an activist and writer. His latest book is "Palestinians in Israel: Segregation, Discrimination and Democracy"

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The rise of the green mayor – Sadiq Khan and the politics of clean energy

At an event at Tate Modern, Sadiq Khan pledged to clean up London's act.

On Thursday night, deep in the bowls of Tate Modern’s turbine hall, London Mayor Sadiq Khan renewed his promise to make the capital a world leader in clean energy and air. Yet his focus was as much on people as power plants – in particular, the need for local authorities to lead where central governments will not.

Khan was there to introduce the screening of a new documentary, From the Ashes, about the demise of the American coal industry. As he noted, Britain continues to battle against the legacy of fossil fuels: “In London today we burn very little coal but we are facing new air pollution challenges brought about for different reasons." 

At a time when the world's leaders are struggling to keep international agreements on climate change afloat, what can mayors do? Khan has pledged to buy only hybrid and zero-emissions buses from next year, and is working towards London becoming a zero carbon city.

Khan has, of course, also gained heroic status for being a bête noire of climate-change-denier-in-chief Donald Trump. On the US president's withdrawal from the Paris Agreement, Khan quipped: “If only he had withdrawn from Twitter.” He had more favourable things to say about the former mayor of New York and climate change activist Michael Bloomberg, who Khan said hailed from “the second greatest city in the world.”

Yet behind his humour was a serious point. Local authorities are having to pick up where both countries' central governments are leaving a void – in improving our air and supporting renewable technology and jobs. Most concerning of all, perhaps, is the way that interest groups representing business are slashing away at the regulations which protect public health, and claiming it as a virtue.

In the UK, documents leaked to Greenpeace’s energy desk show that a government-backed initiative considered proposals for reducing EU rules on fire-safety on the very day of the Grenfell Tower fire. The director of this Red Tape Initiative, Nick Tyrone, told the Guardian that these proposals were rejected. Yet government attempts to water down other EU regulations, such as the energy efficiency directive, still stand.

In America, this blame-game is even more highly charged. Republicans have sworn to replace what they describe as Obama’s “war on coal” with a war on regulation. “I am taking historic steps to lift the restrictions on American energy, to reverse government intrusion, and to cancel job-killing regulations,” Trump announced in March. While he has vowed “to promote clean air and clear water,” he has almost simultaneously signed an order to unravel the Clean Water Rule.

This rhetoric is hurting the very people it claims to protect: miners. From the Ashes shows the many ways that the industry harms wider public health, from water contamination, to air pollution. It also makes a strong case that the American coal industry is in terminal decline, regardless of possibile interventions from government or carbon capture.

Charities like Bloomberg can only do so much to pick up the pieces. The foundation, which helped fund the film, now not only helps support job training programs in coal communities after the Trump administration pulled their funding, but in recent weeks it also promised $15m to UN efforts to tackle climate change – again to help cover Trump's withdrawal from Paris Agreement. “I'm a bit worried about how many cards we're going to have to keep adding to the end of the film”, joked Antha Williams, a Bloomberg representative at the screening, with gallows humour.

Hope also lies with local governments and mayors. The publication of the mayor’s own environment strategy is coming “soon”. Speaking in panel discussion after the film, his deputy mayor for environment and energy, Shirley Rodrigues, described the move to a cleaner future as "an inevitable transition".

Confronting the troubled legacies of our fossil fuel past will not be easy. "We have our own experiences here of our coal mining communities being devastated by the closure of their mines," said Khan. But clean air begins with clean politics; maintaining old ways at the price of health is not one any government must pay. 

'From The Ashes' will premiere on National Geograhpic in the United Kingdom at 9pm on Tuesday, June 27th.

India Bourke is an environment writer and editorial assistant at the New Statesman.

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