A ceasefire in Israel and Gaza will only prolong conflict
Top of the in-tray on the new Foreign Secretary’s desk will be the developing British attitude to the conflict between Israel and Hamas in Gaza.
The continuing war between Russia and Ukraine will be vying for his attention, too, although the stalemate on the battlefield there may move that file into the pending tray. However, it is the volatility of the Palestine issue that has precipitated the Cabinet reshuffle and propelled David Cameron back into front line politics – a move that surprised everyone. For once, the leakers and the pundits were themselves outflanked.
The one thing that can be agreed about the Palestine question is that there are no easy answers, if indeed there are any viable solutions at all. The naked aggression of Hamas on 7 October and the violent response by the Israelis has polarised communities in Palestine, split worldwide opinion, brought violence on to the streets of Britain and consigned discussion of a two-state solution to little more than a bumper sticker.
Until Gaza is rid of Hamas, there can be no prospect of better governance for the Palestinian people
Yet, what better alternatives are there? While international diplomats are striving to contain the Israeli-Hamas conflict to within Gaza, just managing this explosive situation is not a solution. There must be strategic goals towards which Israeli, Palestinian and world leaders should work. To cut to the chase, the Israeli strategic objective is simply to preserve the existence of the Israeli state. Given its international recognition in 1948, this is an objective against which there can be no legitimate argument. For this reason, the United States, United Kingdom and other responsible governments are correct in supporting Israel. But that support must be carefully calibrated and mindful of the Palestinian people’s rights, too.
One of the deeply depressing aspects of the current situation is the evaporation of the previously warming relations between Israel, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. As unlikely as these better relations seemed just a few years ago, they represented some hope for a more stable Middle East region. Iran was the potential loser in this changing situation and the Palestinian cause seemed to have been placed on the back burner. Whether prompted by Iran or not, Hamas on 7 October has certainly propelled the Palestinian issue back to centre stage. It is here that the dichotomies come into sharp focus. While accepting Israel’s right to exist, the scale and violence of Tel Aviv’s response is leading to increasingly loud calls for a ceasefire, not yet from Washington or London but already from the Elysee Palace and echoed around the Arab Muslim world.
However attractive calls for a ceasefire might play out to domestic audiences, the reality of a ceasefire is no solution at all. Yes, short humanitarian pauses may bring some practical relief, but a formal ceasefire will only serve to prolong the conflict, enable Hamas to regroup and recover, and do nothing to address the long-term issue of the security of Israel.
Until Gaza is rid of Hamas, there can be no prospect of better governance for the Palestinian people of Gaza. Hamas must be destroyed as a terrorist threat and international aid must then flow into Gaza to begin to rebuild the shattered infrastructure of that community.
The response from Israel must be a cessation of settler expansion into the West Bank and a renewed commitment to co-existence with the Palestinian people in both Gaza and the West Bank. Such a stance offers Israel the chance of defusing the existential threat from Hezbollah on its northern border. Perpetual conflict and war is no solution for Israel. It will need courage of a different kind from its leaders to tread a path towards peace.
Lord Dannatt, crossbench peer and former chief of the General Staff
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