The current events unfolding in the Middle East are an unbearable tragedy. The attack on Israel by the terrorist organisation Hamas was horrific, with over a thousand innocent people murdered and hundreds more taken hostage. We all have to consider how we would react in the face of such atrocities and that is why it is right to support Israel’s right to defend itself and do all we can to assist them in preventing further missiles reaching Gaza and in freeing the hostages who are enduring unimaginable distress.
We must also recognise that there are millions of innocent Palestinians in Gaza who are now vulnerable and at risk and it is important to expect Israel to be proportionate in its response, to do everything in its power to protect civilians and also to ensure that crucial aid and support can reach civilians in Gaza. This week the Prime Minister announced that he would double our financial support for the Palestinian people. We must also do everything we can to prevent this crisis from escalating into a wider war and that means taking great care over the tone of the debate and also making sure that we redouble our commitment to the so-called “two-state-solution” which is the only long-term route to peace.
The quest for peace in the Middle East has been painfully elusive over decades. After the First World War, the UK was responsible for managing the Palestine Mandate after the breakup of the Ottoman Empire. The idea of creating a homeland for Jewish people as part of a new settlement was put forward in the Balfour Declaration but it was always conditional on there being two states with part of the territory being Palestine and part being Israel but within an economic union. An inability to agree on the borders in the aftermath of the Second World War set the scene for a seemingly intractable problem running for over seventy years. There were serious attempts in the 1990s through the Oslo Accords to establish the basis of peace but, again, agreement could not be reached.
I went to Israel in 2007 when I was an adviser to David Cameron. He met both Benjamin Netanyahu, who was then Israel’s Foreign Minister and Mahmoud Abbas who was and remains the President of the Palestinian Authority based at Ramallah in the West Bank. At the time Israel had started to build new, illegal settlements in areas that were Palestinian which was wrong and has not aided the peace process. While we must support Israel in dealing with the terrorists of Hamas, we must also redouble our efforts to secure a lasting peace by offering support to Palestinian civilians now and support to moderate leaders such as Mahmoud Abbas, the President of the Palestinian Authority.