We have all watched recent events in Gaza with anguish, and my thoughts on it change with every piece of news.
I have been clear from the start, and maintain the view, that we must utterly condemn the appalling attacks perpetrated by Hamas and stand resolutely alongside Israel in her self-defence against some of the most brutal, well-resourced and determined terrorist groups in the World. That is Israel’s right, indeed her duty, and we must not lose sight of it.
The UK recognises the legitimate aspirations of the Palestinian people and supports a lasting ‘two state’ solution for Israelis and Palestinians alike. However, Hamas does not represent the Palestinian people or their aspirations; it does not support the ‘two state’ solution, preferring to seek to ‘drive Israel and the Jews into the sea’; it offers nothing for them other than more terror and more bloodshed. I therefore support Israel’s right to seek to destroy Hamas, save the hostages, deter further incursions and strengthen its security for the long term. Only after that can there be any hope of a return to meaningful negotiations towards a Two State Solution.
It is second a prerequisite that amply justified as the war is, Israel must act in every way in strict accordance with international laws of warfare, especially the Geneva Conventions and every aspect of international humanitarian law. The loss of every innocent life is a tragedy, and while acknowledging that Hamas has enmeshed itself amidst the civilian population of Gaza, and that the loss of civilian lives is a tragic consequence of every war the world has ever known, the UK Government has called on and will continue to call on Israel to take every possible precaution to avoid harming civilians.
The rapidly deteriorating humanitarian situation in Gaza is also deeply troubling. Innocent people are being bombed, dying of their injuries, starving or dying of thirst. The International community, and Israel, must do all they can to alleviate what is fast becoming a humanitarian catastrophe. The UK has promised an additional £20 million of aid and will consider further support depending on changing humanitarian needs on the ground.
However, funding alone is not enough, and I welcome the extensive diplomatic efforts the UK is making to ensure that humanitarian support reaches those who need it. The Prime Minister and Foreign Secretary have raised the issue with the leaders of Israel, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the Palestinian Authority especially with a view to securing humanitarian access to Gaza. I respect and understand Israel’s determination that vital aid should not, however, fall into the hands of Hamas and enhance their war effort. There must therefore be proper checking arrangements at the crossing points.
There have been widespread calls for a ceasefire, and the UK is working via all diplomatic channels to try to find a way by which this war, which has cost so many lives already, can be brought to a halt. However, if there was some easy way of ending it, then all concerned would welcome it. The sole exception to that is Hamas who are determined to continue their murderous agenda, having launched 7000 rockets into Israel since the 7 October massacre. The reality is that Hamas have no interest in a ceasefire. They have no interest in resolution, have never attempted to engage in a two-state solution and have made every attempt to collapse the Oslo process. Israel and the International Community have sought for decades to reason with them, but the current war is the direct product of their total intransigence and reliance on violence to achieve their ends. So while I wholly understand everyone’s longing for a ceasefire of some sort, I find it hard to imagine how that can possibly occur.
All reasonable observers and all those involved (bar Hamas), are deeply torn by a determination to right the wrongs of October 7, to alleviate the humanitarian crisis, and to provide long-term security for the people of Israel, and justice for the Palestinians. Yet achieving that noble aim is easier said than done.
In the meantime I would like to see a cessation of hostilities of one sort or another to get suitably checked humanitarian aid into Gaza, a continuing evacuation of refugees to Egypt (equally checking that they are not infiltrated by Hamas terrorists); and as speedy as possible a general end to the warfare. That last can only occur in the unlikely event that Hamas concede defeat. I have the gravest fear that that will not happen and that we will see more tragic bloodshed before the war is over. We all hate it- it turns my stomach- but what can we do to avoid it?
I promise to keep these deeply troubling thoughts fresh in my mind and stand ready to change my stance on it as events unfold. The tragedy of Gaza is on a scale akin to 9/11, or the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, and its long term consequences cannot be predicted.