OPINION: Israelis and Palestinians have been betrayed by their leaders – the world must not follow suit

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OPINION: Israelis and Palestinians have been betrayed by their leaders – the world must not follow suit

We cannot afford to wait for better politicians to emerge on both sides, warn Lib Dem foreign affairs spokesperson Layla Moran, the only MP of Palestinian heritage, and Jewish Labour MP Alex Sobel.

An Israeli flag atop a destroyed building in northern Gaza.
An Israeli flag atop a destroyed building in northern Gaza.

After 71 days of fighting Foreign Secretary Lord David Cameron finally announced UK support for a ‘sustainable cease-fire’. During that time over 1,300 Israelis and 20,000 Palestinians have been killed. Approximately 130 Israelis are still being held hostage by Hamas. 

Most of Lord Cameron’s core messages echo those we made together eight weeks ago, when the death toll on the Palestinian side stood at 6,000. It has taken a further 50 days and 14,000 more deaths for the UK to call for a cease-fire based on the same principles we espoused.

This is a dereliction of the UK’s role as a global leader.

Like Lord Cameron, we believe that a status quo that leaves Hamas in power is not an acceptable outcome. But it’s clear that there is no military solution to end Hamas. Israel has a duty and a right to protect its citizens. But the demand that Israel abides by international law while continuing the fighting will do nothing to change the outcome for the people trapped in the dystopian nightmare that Gaza has become.

Layla Moran in the Commons

As we write Layla’s family remain in perilous danger trapped sheltering inside the Catholic Church with no food, water, access to electricity or basic sanitation. Until yesterday they were surrounded by the IDF who have already killed two people sheltering with them.

What will become of them if the international community does nothing now?

The need for Israeli security has become a zero-sum equation with the right for Gazans to simply live. We refuse to accept this. A desperate situation in Gaza is a breeding ground for extremism. The dignity and freedom of Palestinians is bound up with the ability of Israelis to live in security.

Lord Cameron fails to acknowledge that this war will not achieve its stated goal of ending Hamas, and as such, he has not outlined a scenario in which the war ends now.

There is a limit to what an increase in humanitarian aid can do while the war continues.  But there are options. For example, an initiative with European and Middle Eastern partners to map out an interim international security arrangement to secure Israel’s border and normalise flows of goods across the border.

Alex Sobel speaking in Parliament.

According to polling, the idea of an international peacekeeping arrangement has broad public support in Israel. Or the removal of the Hamas leadership from Gaza through international back channels. We are not naive to the difficulties of this, but we have seen the success of Qatari intervention to date, and there are other actors such as Jordan and Egypt who benefit from the war ending. These kinds of actions would provide Israel with security assurances, allowing the international community to demand that the fighting ends now.

The only route to lasting peace is a political resolution in the form of two states. Last week Israel’s ambassador to the UK, Tzipi Hotovely, pronounced that she opposed the creation of a Palestinian state and that it was time for people to “move on” from the concept of a two-state solution. It wasn’t shocking to us; the current Israeli government has actively put up obstacles to the two-state solution.

Prime Minister Netanyahu went even further a few days later, stating that he had personally destroyed the Oslo accords and that he was proud that he had prevented the emergence of a Palestinian state.

The two-state solution has not been tried and tested; it is not a failed concept.  It’s true that negotiations have failed in the past. But the answer isn’t to give up. It’s to learn from past failures, and to try again.

For too long, the international community has looked to the region, failed to see any decent leadership in Israel or Palestine and given up. But if the world is now serious about ensuring a long-term resolution, we cannot wait for better leaders to emerge. There is plenty to be done in the meantime.

Last week, in line with the US government’s decision to ban the entry of violent settlers, the UK announced it would do the same. A small but important step that sends a message to both parties that the international community is serious about the pursuit of two states. It helps give a weakened Palestinian Authority credibility that their concerns are taken seriously.

To further strengthen the Palestinian Authority, it’s time that the UK government recognises Palestine and supports recognition at the UN and other international bodies as part of the route map to statehood. The UK government also needs to commit the resources required within the FCDO to put its weight behind an international push for resolution. The same applies to other international actors, particular in the USA.

The two-state solution has not been tried and tested; it is not a failed concept.  It’s true that negotiations have failed in the past. But the answer isn’t to give up. It’s to learn from past failures, and to try again.

The call for peace and a political resolution didn’t start on 7 October.  We don’t think that the international community needs to swoop in and save Israelis and Palestinians. The people working for peace and fighting to change the status quo already exist – organisations like Standing Together that visited the UK parliament last week, that brings Palestinian and Jewish Israelis together to fight for social and political change.

Our role is to work side by side with them, uplifting voices like theirs and providing them the support they need to build a different future.

But first, the fighting must end.

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